Russians Battle Over Internet Freedom – UPDATE

Posted April 11th, 2011 at 3:30 pm (UTC-4)

UPDATE: 19 hours UTC Monday – Author and cyber-security expert Jeffrey Carr reports on his blog “Digital Dao” that lists of the sites attacked, and the botnets employed, are now being released.  Additionally, he reports suspicions are now turning to a group known as “the Nashi.”

Who are the Nashi?  Carr writes:

“The Nashi was the brainchild of Vladislav Surkov, Chief Ideologue and First Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. Shortly after the Russia Georgia War of 2008, Surkov reportedly told a roomful of Russian spin doctors that “August, 2008 was the starting point of the virtual reality of conflicts and the moment of recognition of the need to wage war in the information field too.

Carr is tracking this story very closely – head on over to his blog for all the latest.


James Brooke | Moscow

A massive hacker attack knocked Russia’s most popular opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, off the internet Friday.  Earlier that week, three days of hacker attacks repeatedly knocked out LiveJournal, the nation’s main platform for blogs.

As Russia’s roughly 40 million Internet users digested these attacks, the nation’s top communications security official proposed Friday to ban Skype, Hotmail, and Gmail as uncontrolled threats to Russian security.  It is unclear if the official from Russia’s FSB, the successor agency to the Soviet KGB, will get his way.

With Russia’s Internet users expanding by 10,000 people a day, security officials fret about the internet – a vast, uncontrolled cyberspace.

After the youth revolts spread through the Arab world, the FSB proposed that every Russian user of Facebook and other social networks be required to sign user contracts that included passport information and home addresses.

“A direct consequence of the events in the Middle East and North Africa, in Tunisia, in Egypt,” said Andrei Soldatov, author of “The New Nobility“, a book on the FSB.  “Because for many experts and for many politicians, it seems that social networks played a crucial role.”

Russia is now in an election year.  Parliamentary elections are in December.  Presidential elections are in March.  The ruling United Russia party won regional elections last month, but with generally reduced showings.

Soldatov sees this week’s hacker attacks as a practice for serious shutdowns later this year, when the campaigning and the vote counting gets hot.

“For me it seems like a test of the technology – how to shut down such an important service,” he said.

LiveJournal in Russia hosts almost five million bloggers and receives visits from 13 million users a month.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former opposition parliamentarian and active LiveJournal blogger, said the Kremlin is getting nervous about Russia’s largely uncontrolled blogging space.

Next week, Ryzhkov plans to hold an anti-corruption rally in central Moscow.  In March, his opposition colleagues started to use LiveJournal to distribute their new pamphlet “Putin = Corruption.”

The attacks first targeted the LiveJournal blog of Alexei Navalny, widely considered Russia’s leading anti-corruption crusader.  Navalny routinely calls Russia’s ruling United Russia party “the party of thieves and swindlers.”

After his blog was attacked, he called the attacks a counter-propaganda campaign.  But it soon became apparent that the attackers were aiming at LiveJournal itself.

Ilya Dronov, development manager for the site, the seventh most popular in Russia, wrote on his blog: “Somebody really wants LiveJournal to cease to exist.”

Opposition leader Ryzhkov pointed his finger at the FSB.  He charged that the FSB has a secret unit with up to 300 technicians dedicated to monitoring and controlling the Internet.

In response, Gleb Pavlovsky, pro-Kremlin political analyst, says the opposition is being excessively nervous.  He dismissed Internet users as young, politically apathetic, and non-voters.

The most prominent victim of the LiveJournal shutdowns was Dmitry Medvedev.  Russia’s Internet savvy President maintains a blog on Live Journal.  He is often photographed using an iPad.

When service was restored Thursday night to LiveJournal, he blogged: “As an active LiveJournal user, I consider these actions outrageous and illegitimate.  What happened should be investigated both by the LiveJournal administration and by law enforcement agencies.”

Comments posted on the blog back his call for a police crackdown on the hackers.

But Ryzhkov, the opposition leader, is skeptical.  He said President Medvedev talks a lot about freedom of speech and the Internet, but has no control over Russia’s security services.  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel, is widely seen as ultimately in charge of what are called here the ‘power forces.’

So it seems that a classic Russian battle is shaping up between freedom and control.  Only this time, the battle being waged is happening in cyberspace.

2 responses to “Russians Battle Over Internet Freedom – UPDATE”

  1. Michael says:

    Russia should look to U.S. and see an open internet is good for business and a little embarrassment to the government makes the government a little more honest.

  2. Gennady says:

    To Michael:
    Your suggestion fits pragmatic politics but not the FSB regime in Russia. They think on the pattern of their godfather J. Stalin. They view open internet and social networking as “wrong” technology. Therefore, they will be inclined to shutdown popular sites as the real threat to their rule. At least they will bombard the sites with attacks for months to come.
    The good news is that just a glimpse of Russian history helps to predict the failure of their approach and looming collapse of the regime. J. Stalin in 1930-39 labeled genetics, cybernetics and scientific management (Taylorism) as “wrong” sciences. VChK-OGPU (the forerunners of FSB), repressed and executed many prominent scientists like N. Vavilov, Aleksei Gastev, O. Ermanskiy and others. Result of their actions is felt in Russia even now for its dramatic backwardness in genetics, cybernetics, consumer electronics and means of production. The best strategy for ordinary Russians is to wait and see, as the global technological and scientific progress will outwit all exertions of the FSB regime.

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