Security Advisor

Malware Fights the Power

Government sends word that two power plants were infected with viruses via USB devices at the end of 2012.

A recent report by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (ICS-CERT), a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, announced that  both "common and sophisticated malware" had infected the controls of a power generation facility.

The malware apparently got into the system via the old "hide on a seemingly innocent USB device" trick.  

"When the IT employee inserted the drive into a computer with up-to-date antivirus software, the antivirus software produced three positive hits," read the report. "Initial analysis caused particular concern when one sample was linked to known sophisticated malware. Following analysis and at the request of the customer, an onsite team was deployed to their facility where the infection occurred."

But by the time that IT had investigated the device, malware had already been loaded onto a handful of machines. This incident, which took place sometime between October and December of last year, isn't an isolated event.

Earlier in October, ICE-CERT was notified that the turbine control system at another power plant had been infected, this time by an unknowing third-party technician. However, like in the first incident, an infected USB drive was the vehicle for the malware.

ICE-CERT's suggestions to avoid these types of incidents are nothing new, but worth repeating:

"While the implementation of an antivirus solution presents some challenges in a control system environment, it could have been effective in identifying both the common and the sophisticated malware discovered on the USB drive and the engineering workstations. In addition to backing up the engineering workstation  configuration files, the USB drive was also transporting malware. A good backup procedure should incorporate best practices for USB usage to ensure that malicious content is not spread or inadvertently introduced, especially in critical control environments. This procedure should include cleaning the USB device before each use or the use of write-once media such as CDs or DVDs."

Do you have a plan when it comes to employees and USB devices? Share it with us below or send your thoughts to [email protected]

About the Author

Chris Paoli is the site producer for and


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