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During the night, two of Star Light’s servers had inexplicably gone offline.The IT administrator on the phone assured him that the servers had already been restored from backups. The two machines had gone dark at almost the same minute.And the digital explosives that Russia has repeatedly set off in Ukraine are ones it has planted at least once before in the civil infrastructure of the United States.One Sunday morning in October 2015, more than a year before Yasinsky would look out of his kitchen window at a blacked-out skyline, he sat near that same window sipping tea and eating a bowl of cornflakes. He was then serving as the director of information security at Star Light Media, Ukraine’s largest TV broadcasting conglomerate.A growing roster of Ukrainian companies and government agencies had come to him to analyze a plague of cyberattacks that were hitting them in rapid, remorseless succession.
In 2004, Ukrainian crowds in orange scarves flooded the streets to protest Moscow’s rigging of the country’s elections; that year, Russian agents allegedly went so far as to poison the surging pro-Western presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.Each blackout lasted a matter of hours, only as long as it took for scrambling engineers to manually switch the power on again.But as proofs of concept, the attacks set a new precedent: In Russia’s shadow, the decades-old nightmare of hackers stopping the gears of modern society has become a reality. They were part of a digital blitzkrieg that has pummeled Ukraine for the past three years—a sustained cyberassault unlike any the world has ever seen.“You can’t really find a space in Ukraine where there In a public statement in December, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, reported that there had been 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets in just the previous two months.International cybersecurity analysts have stopped just short of conclusively attributing these attacks to the Kremlin, but Poroshenko didn’t hesitate: Ukraine’s investigations, he said, point to the “direct or indirect involvement of secret services of Russia, which have unleashed a cyberwar against our country.” (The Russian foreign ministry didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.)To grasp the significance of these assaults—and, for that matter, to digest much of what’s going on in today’s larger geopolitical disorder—it helps to understand Russia’s uniquely abusive relationship with its largest neighbor to the west.