US officials helped Cisco sneak a cybersecurity prototype into Ukraine using a plane carrying humanitarian aid

  • Cisco created a prototype device that could help keep Ukraine's power grid running this winter.

  • In a covert operation first reported by CNN, the devices were delivered using a US plane carrying humanitarian aid.

  • The devices were designed to keep the grid afloat despite Russian cyberattacks.

Cisco created cybersecurity prototypes for Ukraine to protect its power grid, but getting them into Ukraine required a bit of subterfuge.

US agencies helped sneak the devices into the country, in part by using a US Air Force plane carrying humanitarian aid, according to a new report from CNN.

Through meetings organized by the US Department of Commerce earlier this year, Cisco helped Ukraine's power grid operator, Ukrenergo, solve a critical problem it was facing: how to protect the grid's GPS-based clocks — which deliver information about power flow across locations — even as Russian forces tried to hack the grid, CNN reported.

"Cisco, along with power grid experts in the public and private sector, worked tirelessly for 8 months to develop, test and deploy our solution to Ukraine," Joe Marshall, Cisco Talos security strategist, told Business Insider. "It involved a great deal of trial and error, but we managed to develop a unique solution that helps mitigate the GPS jamming issue."

After developing a pizza box-sized prototype for the equipment, Cisco needed to find a way to stealthily deliver it to Ukraine, so a Cisco executive quietly enlisted help from the Pentagon and the Department of Energy to deliver the boxes, according to CNN.

In April, the prototypes were loaded onto a US Air Force plane carrying humanitarian aid from a military base on the East Coast to Rzeszów, Poland, near the Ukrainian border, CNN reported.

Then, the equipment traveled via train into western Ukraine, where Ukrenergo engineers were waiting in an office to fine-tune the devices, according to the outlet.

The operation was a success; Ukrenergo's engineers installed the devices, and Cisco created dozens more to ship out, CNN reported.

The Department of Energy said it has shipped nearly 20 tons of "electrical equipment on U.S. Air Force cargo planes to help Ukraine's electric grid and associated essential services, leveraging the knowledge and expertise of our National Laboratories and working in coordination with the private sector." The department added that it will continue to support Ukraine's needs.

The hardware kits — worth about $1 million but offered for free by Cisco — have since been installed across the country. Thanks to the covert operation, the prototypes could help Ukraine keep its power running through another brutal winter of war.

"Fighting the good fight isn't just about cybersecurity. It's about doing the right thing and helping others in the face of adversity," Marshall said. "We knew that this work was our chance to make a tangible difference to Ukrainians, who are living in an active war zone. We knew this solution would help save lives - and keep the lights on in Ukraine."

The Pentagon and the Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider