On December 23 of last year, tens of thousands of people in Ukraine suffered a blackout. The culprit wasn’t just another malfunction or a natural disaster—but a hacker attack. This was the first known cyberattack that took out the electric grid anywhere in the world.
The Ukrainian power companies quickly realized this wasn’t just a regular outage, and the country’s authorities, especially the SBU security service, quickly pointed the finger at Russia. The hackers used a well-known piece of malware called BlackEnergy to infect the companies’ networks, but the attack wasn’t just a matter of dropping a trojan virus, it was a way more sophisticated, months long operation.
The attack knocked out the power for around 250,000 people, according to estimates. But to this day, no one is certain who did it. It could’ve been the Russian government, or it could’ve been a for-hire team of Russian hackers contracted by the government, or someone else entirely.
We travelled to Ukraine and Russia to figure out what happened when the lights went out for CYBERWAR’s latest episode. The episode aired on Tuesday, but you can watch it online on VICELAND (if you have a cable subscription and are in the US or Canada). As an appetizer, watch the preview at the top of this post and read some of Motherboard’s past stories about the attack on Ukraine’s power grid and infrastructure hacking.