(credit: Krzysztof Lasoń)

Highly destructive malware that infected at least three regional power authorities in Ukraine led to a power failure that left hundreds of thousands of homes without electricity last week, researchers said.

The outage left about half of the homes in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine without electricity, Ukrainian news service TSN reported in an article posted a day after the December 23 failure. The report went on to say that the outage was the result of malware that disconnected electrical substations. On Monday, researchers from security firm iSIGHT Partners said they had obtained samples of the malicious code that infected at least three regional operators. They said the malware led to “destructive events” that in turn caused the blackout. If confirmed it would be the first known instance of someone using malware to generate a power outage.

“It’s a milestone because we’ve definitely seen targeted destructive events against energy before—oil firms, for instance—but never the event which causes the blackout,” John Hultquist, head of iSIGHT’s cyber espionage intelligence practice, told Ars. “It’s the major scenario we’ve all been concerned about for so long.”

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First known hacker-caused power outage signals troubling escalation