Ontario hydro utility potentially targeted by Russian hackers

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as the FBI, have warned Ontario's main hydro utility that the service may have been targeted by Russian cyber-attackers, and cyber-security experts say that something similar could easily happen here in Quebec, as well.

Russia has denied any involvement, but an IP address from Hydro One was one of several hundred found during the U.S. government's investigation into the summer 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.  Hackers may have covertly placed malware onto computers at Hydro One, which runs most of the province's electricity grid.

Hydro One insists that the IP address in question was not connected to Ontario's electricty network, and the company told CTV News that it is no longer an active IP address in their network.

Still, the revelation has raised alarm bells for many, especially on the heels of last week's discovery by U.S. officials that a Russian malware code, known as "Grizzly Steppe", had been installed on a laptop belonging to a major electrical utility company in Vermont.  Malware like "Grizzly Steppe" is often used by hackers to conduct "zombie attacks" on a third-party using a vulnerable computer.

But "zombie attacks" aren't the only way hackers take advantage of a computer system, especially with infrastructure like a power grid.  In December of 2015, the Ukrainian electricity system was hit by a cyberattack that left 225,000 customers without power.

CJAD 800 tech expert Carmi Levy says that hacking is a threat in the modern world, not just for personal computers and other devices, but for major technical infrastructure.

According to Levy, this revelation is a game-changer. "Up until now we might have assumed that these systems were absolutely invulnerable to this kind of thing, but what we're seeing now is that nothing is invulnerable", he said.

For its part, Hydro Quebec is taking steps to protect its own grid from similar attacks.  The province's electricity utility has co-sponsored a five-year research grant through Concordia University.  There, a team of 25 will work to make the utility's new "smart grids" secure against any cyber-hacking threats.