If Russia is plunged into darkness one day, Washington may well be behind it—or so US officials are telling the New York Times. In a strategic shift, the US military's Cyber Command is planting malware in Russia's electrical grid to offset the threat that Russia can do the same to America. The FBI and Homeland Security have warned for years that Moscow has planted malware in US power plants, water supplies, and gas and oil pipelines. Now, with President Trump and Congress giving Cyber Command more leeway, it's game on. The US "has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year," says a top intelligence officer on condition of anonymity. "We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago."
The story dates back to the Obama era, when Russian hackers increasingly breached the Pentagon and US electric utilities. President Obama slow-walked a response until Russia upped the ante by turning off the power for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians for a few hours in 2015: "That was the crossing of the Rubicon," says a security expert. Obama responded by increasing US hacking into Russia—how much is still not public—and a 2018 military authorization bill approved by Congress allowed "clandestine military activity" in cyberspace without the president's OK, per CNET. Meet the new military standoff: "It's 21st-century gunboat diplomacy," saw a law professor in Texas. "We used to park ships within sight of the shore. Now, perhaps, we get access to key systems like the electric grid." (Read more cybersecurity stories.)