Washington Post publishes fake news story on Russian electric grid hack
The Washington Post published a story on Friday claiming that Russia had hacked a Vermont electric company's computers. The repoirt caused an explosion on social media and dozens of articles quoting the Post were published as a result.
But a statement issued by the Burlington Electric Department said that the company's computers had not been hacked, but that a personal laptop belonging to an employee had been penetrated.
How did the Post get the story so wrong? The reporters violated a cardinal rule of journalism; they failed to confirm the story with the company.
“Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks,” a spokesman for the Burlington Electric Department said. “We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems.”
The Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told The Burlington Free Press, “The grid is not in danger.”
However, this false Washington Post story about a Russian intrusion into the American electrical grid has caused panic among journalists.
Politico cybersecurity reporter Eric Geller said about the Post story, “Pretty amazing how badly the Post appears to have mangled this one. You didn’t call the Vermont utility regulator before publishing?”
The Post has since updated the story. The headline changed to “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.” The updated story said the “code entered the Vermont utility’s computers,” but the utility spokesman’s statement stated the code was found on one laptop.
Note that the Post couldn't even get the correction right.
How ironic is it that the Post has been extensively covering the "fake news" issue and is now found to be guilty of creating it.Certainly, the Post has little credibility with the general public, but this incident only further demonstrates that, in addition to partisan bias, there is reportorial and editorial incompetence that needs to be addressed by the Washington Post company.