In today’s whitewash the Washington Posted stated “The Post initially reported incorrectly that the country’s electric grid had been penetrated through a Vermont utility. After Burlington Electric released its statement saying that the potentially compromised laptop had not been connected to the grid, The Post immediately corrected its article and later added an editor’s note explaining the change.”
That’s a bunch of BS in and of itself.
The original Washington Post headline was Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say
Although the Washington Post added a note, the revised headline remained major BS: “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.”
Both headlines were fake news.
Today we learn …
U.S. officials are continuing to investigate the laptop. In the course of their investigation, though, they have found on the device a package of software tools commonly used by online criminals to deliver malware. The package, known as Neutrino, does not appear to be connected with Grizzly Steppe, which U.S. officials have identified as the Russian hacking operation. The FBI, which declined to comment, is continuing to investigate how the malware got onto the laptop.
Experts also said that because Yahoo’s mail servers are visited by millions of people each day, the fact that a Burlington Electric employee checking email touched off an alert is not an indication that the Russian government was targeting the utility.
“It’s not descriptive of anything in particular,” said Robert M. Lee, chief executive of Dragos, a cybersecurity firm.
The company said it was told much the same thing by authorities. “Federal officials have indicated that the specific type of Internet traffic, related to recent malicious cyber activity that was reported by us [on Friday], also has been observed elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric,” company spokesman Mike Kanarick said in a statement.
Washington Post Revisionist History
The original article was posted online on the Washington Post’s website at 7:55PM EST. Using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can see that sometime between 9:24PM and 10:06PM the Post updated the article to indicate that multiple computer systems at the utility had been breached (“computers” plural), but that further data was still being collected: “Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computers, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion.” Several paragraphs of additional material were added between 8PM and 10PM, claiming and contextualizing the breach as part of a broader campaign of Russian hacking against the US, including the DNC and Podesta email breaches.
Despite the article ballooning from 8 to 18 paragraphs, the publication date of the article remained unchanged and no editorial note was appended, meaning that a reader being forwarded a link to the article would have no way of knowing the article they were seeing was in any way changed from the original version published 2 hours prior.
Yet, as the Post’s story ricocheted through the politically charged environment, other media outlets and technology experts began questioning the Post’s claims and the utility company itself finally issued a formal statement at 9:37PM EST, just an hour and a half after the Post’s publication, pushing back on the Post’s claims: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”
It was not until almost a full hour after the utility’s official press release (at around 10:30PM EST) that the Post finally updated its article, changing the headline to the more muted “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say” and changed the body of the article to note “Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems.
The following morning, nearly 11 hours after changing the headline and rewriting the article to indicate that the grid itself was never breached and the “hack” was only an isolated laptop with malware, the Post still had not appended any kind of editorial note to indicate that it had significantly changed the focus of the article.
This is significant, as one driving force of fake news is that as much of 60%of the links shared on social media are shared based on the title alone, with the sharer not actually reading the article itself. Thus, the title assigned to an article becomes the story itself and the Post’s incorrect title meant that the story that spread virally through the national echo chamber was that the Russians had hacked into the US power grid.
Only after numerous outlets called out the Post’s changes did the newspaper finally append an editorial note at the very bottom of the article more than half a day later saying “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”
Yet, even this correction is not a true reflection of public facts as known. The utility indicated only that a laptop was found to contain malware that has previously been associated with Russian hackers. As many pointed out, the malware in question is actually available for purchase online, meaning anyone could have used it and its mere presence is not a guarantee of Russian government involvement.
Moreover, just as with the Santa Claus and the dying child story, the Post story went viral and was widely reshared, leading to embarrassing situations like CNBC tweeting out the story and then having to go back and retract the story.
Particularly fascinating that the original Post story mentioned that there were only two major power utilities in Vermont and that Burlington Electric was one of them, meaning it would have been easy to call both companies for comment.
If the Washington Post had an ounce of dignity, it would have issued an apology for spreading fake news.
I knew that story was BS the moment I saw it.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock