Stories from Quick Reads and Russia
Some pro-Russian videos appear to have gone viral, and not in a good sense. Motherboard reports that a group of unknown hackers has been infecting Internet users’ computers with viruses and using them to inflate views on news videos with a pro-Russian slant, as well as some other content.
New research by security firm Trustwave shows that victims got infected by visiting a compromised website that installed an exploit kit (an off-the-shelf software package allowing for easy attacks) on their computer, along with a trojan virus. The infected computers would then stealthily rack up views on the videos.
The videos identified by the researchers all appear to be pro-Russian, such as a one from the Iranian English-language broadcaster PressTV that quotes a Russian Parliament member justifying the annexation of Crimea. The goal of the operation, according to Trustwave researchers Rami Kogan and Arseny Levin, was to artificially increase the popularity of a video and make it more visible to users of the site Dailymotion.
Trustwave experts say the suspicious videos all share the same traits: they all have a fairly high number of views (around 320K, most of them within minutes of each other) but no social media shares or comments. By artificially inflating the clip's popularity, the fraudsters also make the video more visible to other users of the video site.
Using bots to generate fake traffic to video clips is nothing new. It is a technique to raise a clip's popularity score and achieve higher visibility. However, this is the first time we've observed the tactic used to promote video clips with a seemingly political agenda.
Both Trustwave analysts and independent security researchers told Motherboard that using malware for political aims was new, but that such ‘invisible propaganda’ could be very effective, as only its results were visible,but not the fraudulent mechanisms behind them.
“We have seen hacks that are motivated by money and other ‘hacktivist’ attacks that are motivated by politics,” Karl Sigler, the threat intelligence manager at Trustwave, told Motherboard. “This current campaign shows that those two motivations are starting to evolve and blend together.”
While it is unclear who is behind the campaign, Trustware experts speculate that those who spread the exploit kit and the malware simply aimed to make money, and that someone else paid them to add fake views to pro-Russian propaganda videos.
Vladimir Yakovlev, the founder of Kommersant newspaper and former editor of Snob website, is raising funds for a new Russian independent media project on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The project's description on the Kickstarter page claims the goal is to create a media outlet that will counteract the Russian “state propaganda machine” and help “turn zombies back into people.”
Russia today is torn by hatred caused by a multimillion-dollar state propaganda machine. This is a real danger for an entire world as we know it.
People hate each other. They have a terrible delusion that Russia is surrounded by enemies. Recent murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov is just one of numerous casualties of state-funded hatred campaign.
Now, more than ever, we need a new independent media to unite the best journalists by common goal: to stop propaganda of hatred; to find a way to resist the madness that is tearing apart an entire country bringing it closer and closer to a horrible social disaster.
I want to start this new media project as soon as possible. It will be a powerful, formidable, effective multi-media platform free of political control and Kremlin power.
If Kremlin media is so good in turning people into zombies, why can’t we create a media to turn zombies back to people?
As the world watches Russian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists occupy Ukrainian administration buildings, cities, and even an entire peninsula, a group of Ukrainian hackers is fighting back by launching an invasion of their own.
Since this summer, Ukrainian hacker Yevgeniy Dokukin and his group of fellow computer pros calling themselves Ukrainian Cyber Forces have carried out “Operation Bond, James Bond,” in which they leaked web camera and security footage from Crimea, separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, and even government offices in Russia. Dokukin and the Ukrainian Cyber Forces have been leaking videos from cameras for months now, including a video supposedly from a separatist base in Donetsk.
A few weeks ago, Dokukin and his allies took up new weapons in their cyberwar: printers. In a series of Facebook posts, Dokukin has explained how, after accessing private WiFi networks, the Ukrainian Cyber Forces were able to print documents on vulnerable networked printers in various offices in Crimea and separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine, and were now trying to do the same in Russian networks.
— MustLive (@MustLiveUA) December 8, 2014
#UkrainianCyberForces have begun occupying networked printers in Donbas and in Crimea.
As Dokukin told RuNet Echo, he sees the wasted ink and paper in Russia as a variant on Ukraine’s own “economic sanctions” aimed at its neighbor. The messages appearing on these printers vary, but they share a common theme:
Якщо ваш мережевий принтер передасть “вітання Путіну” чи надрукує “Слава Україні!” та інші цікаві надписи, то знайте, що він під нашим контролем.
If your network printer passes along “greetings to Putin” or prints “Glory to Ukraine!” or other interesting messages, then you know that it is under our control.
Not all of Dokukin’s printer messages were meant to be confrontational. Recently, the Ukrainian Cyber Forces accessed an open network printer in Canada—an especially strong ally of Ukraine throughout the ongoing crisis—and printed the message “Thanks for supporting Ukraine!” in English.
As Russia increases its support of information warfare, including slick redesigns of its news agencies and propping up fake Ukrainian news sites, Ukrainian Cyber Forces are taking the trolling and information war to their opponents—and their offices—more directly.
Ukraine's new foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, is in hot water on the Russian Internet today, where bloggers are drawing attention to his first subscriptions on Twitter. RuNet users have noticed that some of the first accounts Klimkin chose to follow are US politicians John McCain and Mitt Romney, the neoconservative American think tanks the Foreign Policy Institute and the Lugar Center, and the US State Department itself. Serving a new government in Kiev that Moscow regularly accuses of kowtowing to Washington, Klimkin has provided critics of Ukraine with fresh ammunition in the information war between Russia and the West.
The anonymous LiveJournal blog hardingush, run by a member of Russia's Ministry of the Interior special forces operating in Ingushetia, is now closed. RuNet Echo has previously highlighted [Global Voices report] this blog as part of its series that focuses on bloggers in the volatile North Caucasus. The blog had been ranked one the most popular in the North Caucasus’ blogosphere, and at the height of its popularity was one of the most highly rated LiveJournal blogs in Russia, receiving hundreds of comments per single blog entry.
Many had speculated about the hardingush's origins, with some bloggers wondering if the whole blog wasn't simply a very well made public relations stunt on the part of Russia's security apparatus. hardingush had previously closed his LiveJournal, but resumed blogging under a different account — molonlabe. Currently the original page shows only one post, about dogs. The link to the mirror site, molonlabe is in the comments. There, in his final post, HardIngush writes:
У меня для постоянных читателей блога есть не очень приятное известие. Ну, я, собственно, предупреждал об этом раньше. По ряду причин дальнейшие публикации в этом блоге невозможны. Короче, это последний пост в моем блоге. Никому не нужны проблемы, а я тем более их не люблю сам себе создавать.
I have not so good news for the regular readers of the blog. Well, actually, I was warned about it previously. For several reasons, further posts on this blog are impossible. In short, this is the last post on my blog. Nobody wants problems, and I especially do not like to create them for myself.
He is probably talking about the fact that his profile has become publicly visible — to the point where there have been numerous attempts to deanonymize him. He concludes:
Спасибо вам, что были со мной все это время. И помните, пока мы есть – у террористов нет шансов в России. Дураки не погубили страну, куда там отмороженным фанатикам.
Thanks to all who have been with me all this time. And remember, as long as we exist – the terrorists do not have a chance in Russia. Fools couldn't not ruined the country where there are frostbitten fanatics.
Was hardingush a conscientious special forces officer who just wanted people to understand him and his work, as he portrayed himself? Or was he a successful media project? His true identity will probably never be known, and neither will his motivation for blogging.
A group of artists in Kiev has opened a new exhibit that many Russians are calling dangerously xenophobic. Yesterday, April 24, 2014, the “Ukrainian Cultural Front” presented four interactive installations intended to criticize Russia for its opposition to the EuroMaidan movement and its interventions in southeastern Ukraine. The most controversial exhibit (titled “Beware of Russians!”) featured three homely-looking men trapped behind a fence, dressed as stereotypical Russians. (One man wore a tracksuit, another donned military camouflage, and a third sat on a flattened cardboard box, playing the balalaika and begging for spare change.) Posted on different sides of the fence were signs like those one finds at a zoo, reading “Beware of Occupiers!” and “Please Do Not Feed!”
The art exhibit was in such obvious bad taste, many Russians seem to believe, that several of the RuNet's most vocal patriotic bloggers simply reposted photos from the installation, not even bothering to specify their objections. Of course, many others found it necessary to articulate the dangers of Russophobia. Publicist Dmitry Olshansky, whose Facebook texts are among the Russian blogosphere's most vociferously pro-intervention, wrote threateningly that the “motor” of today's conflict between Russia and Ukraine rests entirely on “Ukraine's certainty that Russians will never respond to anything.”
The Russian government is drafting a new project that would redefine the “principles of state cultural policy.” In a concept paper shared with the press this week, a working group led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff, declared Russia's need to preserve its unique “state-civilization” and moral foundation in the face of globalization. Russia must “open up to the world” without “dissolving in it,” the paper argues.
The Ministry of Culture's plans could have a profound impact on Russia's regulation of the Internet, if future legislation adopts the language that now appears in the working group's recommendations, which likens “information quality controls” to environmental protection:
Сегодня в киберпространстве все, кто имеет доступ к компьютер и Интернету, что-то создают и распространяют вне зависимости от образования, кругозора, жизненного опыта, знания предмета, психического здоровья и их истинных намерений. В результате информационное пространство загрязнено, и воздействие на нас этих загрязнений пока еще плохо осознается, но их уже можно сравнивать с загрязнением воздуха, которым мы дышим и воды, которую мы пьем.
Today in cyberspace, everyone who has access to a computer and the Internet is creating and distributing something, regardless of their education, worldview, life experience, expertise, mental health, or true intentions. As a result, the information space is polluted. It is still early and we cannot say what impact this has on us, but we can already compare this to pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Equating “Internet pollution” with carbon emissions and water contamination would vastly expand the state's ability to regulate online activity. Lawmakers discussed the working paper in the Duma today, but no one addressed its potential application to Internet policy. Before the plan emerges as legislation, state officials have several wrinkles to iron out—particularly those concerning funding.
Artyom Loskutov, creator of the popular counter-culture art movement “Monstration” [see Global Voices report], made waves on RuNet by signing a letter in support of Dmitry Kiselyov, a journalist who many consider to be Putin's chief propagandist. Loskutov was one of several dozen Russian journalists who signed the letter [ru], which asks pointed questions about recent EU sanctions imposed against Kiselyov, and whether such sanctions constitute an attack on free speech.
Loskutov works for TV Rain, an opposition TV station currently facing financial difficulties because of censorship, and so seems like an odd candidate to voice support for Kiselyov. Popular photo-blogger Rustem Adagamov even tweeted [ru] that he wants to cancel his subscription to TV Rain and get his money back because of Loskutov's position. Loskutov defended himself in a Facebook post [ru], saying that his signature was not in support of Kiselyov, but rather in support of the principle of free speech and the rights of journalists. Many of his readers argued that free speech should not apply to “propagandists” like Kiselyov, launching personal attacks against Loskutov and continuing a long tradition of Russian liberal intelligentsia seeking out fifth columnists in their own ranks.
Over the past several hours rumors [uk] have spread [ru] through [ru] the Russian Internet claiming that Alexander Muzychko, second-in-command to Ukraine's ultra-nationalist “Right Sector” leader Dmytro Yarosh, was gunned down near the Western Ukrainian city of Rivno. Muzychko had earlier posted a YouTube video [ru] claiming he had information that he was going to be eliminated by Ukrainian security forces. If his death, yet unconfirmed, is true, it will be unclear who to blame — too many people have reasons to take him out of the picture. A Chechen blogger, Zulikhan Magomadova [ru], writing in Russian, blamed the Kremlin for the assassination, with the motive of fomenting civil war in Ukraine. Muzychko fought along side Chechen separatists during the first Chechen war. Magomadova ended with “Sleep well, our dear brother-in-arms. We will avenge you.”
In addition to Grani.ru, EJ.ru, Kasparov.ru, and Alexey Navalny's LiveJournal blog [Global Voices report], today some ISPs also blocked the website of the liberal radio station Echo Moskvy (Moscow's Echo). According to antizapret.info, the website was blocked at the behest of the Attorney General's office because it contains a mirror of Alexey Navalny's blog at www.echo.msk.ru/blog/navalny. Echo Moskvy Deputy Editor-in-Chief Vladimir Varfolomeev tweeted that at least one ISP is working on resolving the problem:
Пресс-секретарь Акадо сообщил, что идёт работа по возвращению доступа к сайту Эха, но по-прежнему будет закрыта страница Навального на нём.
— Владимир Варфоломеев (@Varfolomeev) March 13, 2014
Akado's [ISP -ed.] press secretary told me that they are working on returning access to Echo, but Navalny's page there will still be blocked.
Some bloggers are also reporting [ru] problems accessing their LiveJournal blogs, likely because of the same issue of over-zealous blocking.
Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev has written a letter to President Vladimir Putin, proposing amendments to the new data retention law and suggesting that Russians’ personal data could be stored abroad with the permission of the owners.
Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI) reports:
Marinichev has proposed allowing foreign online companies to store Russians’ personal data in a country that is a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, according to Izvestia.
A total of 46 countries have ratified the convention, including Russia, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as post-Soviet countries including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine.
“We don’t want to lose global online services, which will be unable to operate in Russia unless the law is amended. I suggest that amendments be discussed with the expert community,” Marinichev said, as quoted by Izvestia.
The data retention law that requires social networking sites and foreign companies providing Internet services (like airline tickets and consumer goods sales) in Russia to store Russians’ personal data on servers inside the Russian Federation, will come into effect on September 1.
An unlikely event occurred in Moscow last week, when police chased a towing truck hauling a bright yellow minivan through the Red Square in the heart of the capital.
The car chase drew many spectators, not in the least because no cars, motorbikes, or bicycles are allowed on the Red Square. And where there are spectators with smartphones, there are always photos.
— События дня (@GazetaRu) February 25, 2015
A towing truck with a minivan broke through to the Red Square—photo report:
The story only got weirder from there, as it turned out the towing truck was hijacked by the indignant owner of the very minivan it was attempting to tow. Reportedly, the man attacked the towing truck's driver and them drove off.
Хозяин машины, помещенной на эвакуатор, сам отобрал эвакуатор и выехал на нем на Красную площадь pic.twitter.com/4lMbi9J1Hw
— RIP Новости (@riarip) February 25, 2015
“The owner of the minivan that was on the towing truck hijacked the truck himself and drove into the Red Square.
Some Twitter users noted the color scheme of the two cars was reminiscent of the Ukrainian flag and drew immediate parallels with the ongoing confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.
Эвакуатор цветов украинского флага устроил протестное катание перед носом Путла по Красной площади pic.twitter.com/2MLLcKhRka
— Європейський вибір (@European_choice) February 25, 2015
“A towing truck in Ukrainian colors staged a protest ride under Putlo's [Putin's] nose in the Red Square.”
Police pursued the hijacker, but he led them on quite a merry chase before they managed to stop him. Because the Red Square is one of the most popular tourist locations not only in Moscow, but in all of Russia, the event was also caught on video.
Полиция и эвакуатор устроили погоню на Красной площади: http://t.co/paEuXNA7Z3
— Djigit of the USSR (@Djigit_USSR) February 25, 2015
Police and a towing truck in hot pursuit in the Red Square:
The ban on access to the Red Square for motorized vehicles has been in place since 1963, when it was instituted in order to preserve the pedestrian area for the hordes of tourists admiring the views. Apparently, though, the ban does little to prevent daredevils like the towing truck hijacker from driving right through the heart of downtown Moscow—and going viral on social media while doing so.
IP addresses inside the Russian government continue to be active on Wikipedia, where a computer at the Russian Secret Service, the FSO, revised the German entry for Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, changing the word “separatists” into “rebels.” The Twitter bot @RuGovEdits, which automatically logs all Wikipedia edits made from Russian government IP addresses, caught five separate attempts by an FSO computer this morning to make the “rebels” language stick. The effort failed. German Wikipedia editors reverted the article's language to the original text, every time.
A Russian chocolate company in Novosibirsk has released a new candy bar called “The Crimea” with the slogan, “Just try to grab it!” A product announcement shared with the press features a super-hero character wearing the colors of the Russian flag, standing before a map of Crimea, with the following tagline:
Даже в то время, когда страна принимает непростые решения, мы не перестаем улыбаться. Потому что мы—Россияне!
Even in times when the country is making difficult decisions, we never stop smiling. That's because we are Russians!
The company responsible for this new confection, “Chocolate Traditions,” has produced other specially themed sweets. Earlier this year, it announced a fudge bar called “the Viagra.” There are also several holiday-themed candy collections, for Victory Day, Women's Day, and so on. One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the Crimea chocolates costs 130 rubles (about $4).
Russian Internet users have showed great interest in the new Crimea-themed candy bar. According to Yandex's blogs search engine, the past few hours have seen over a thousand posts on the subject. Many Russians have noticed that the chocolate bars expire after ten months, leading several bloggers to joke that Russia's occupation of Crimea won't last another year.
В российских конфетах “Крым – а ну-ка, отбери” срок годности 10 месяцев. В январе Крым вновь станет украинским. pic.twitter.com/10y2Zhd4uu
— Льовочкинъ (@slevo4kin) June 5, 2014
The Russian candy “Crimea—just try to grab it” has a shelf life of 10 months. In January, Crimea will become Ukrainian again.
Bloggers in Ukraine are turning to the Internet to publish the locations of troops in the country’s southeast, where the army is in the midst of a massive “counter-terrorist” operation against militants who have seized control of parts of major cities. A group called “Military Maps” on the Russian social network Vkontakte has created an application that allows any user to mark the location of soldiers and military hardware on maps of Ukraine. The service appears to be the work of separatist sympathizers hoping to provide rebel combatants with tactical intelligence.
Друзья! Не забываем! pic.twitter.com/bht8Thd8sA
— ЄВРОМАЙДАН (@euromaidan) April 17, 2014
“Friends! We won't forget!” [Image reads, “Attention: Ukraine's Ministry of Defense asks Internet-users to remain silent about the movements of Ukrainian army troops.”]
The accuracy and timeliness of “Military Maps” is questionable, but some Ukrainian bloggers are taking the threat seriously, spreading a message from the country’s defense ministry warning against discussing online the army’s movements. As early as mid-March this year, the Ukrainian government has cautioned citizens against revealing such information on the Internet. In mid-April, the mega-popular Twitter account “euromaidan” disseminated the same message again (see above), collecting nearly 900 retweets and favorites. Now, as Odessa slips into apparent anarchy and Kiev’s soldiers battle their way into cities throughout the southeast, bloggers are again calling on people to avoid posting about troop movements.
Russia's most famous blogger (or as he describes himself: “corruption fighter, son, husband, father”) has been forced to move away from LiveJournal, the popular blogging platform that launched him to fame in the first place. As a result of government mandated censorship [Global Voices report], and notwithstanding attempts to counteract such censorship [Global Voices report], Alexey Navalny's team has started a new standalone blog, navalny.com [ru]. Because Navalny is still under house arrest, the blog is technically run by his wife. According to the first post [ru], this blog is an attempt to create a clean slate with Russia's Internet regulators, who claim that Navalny's old blog contains calls for unlawful rallies. At this point, Navalny's LiveJournal account [ru] has stopped updating with original content — it simply links to new posts on navalny.com.
“Is Crimea referendum a good model for Africa?” asks Richard Dowden:
Africa’s arbitrary borders, mostly drawn by people who had never set foot in the continent, have always been an obvious target for renegotiation. But Africa’s first rulers, who foresaw chaos and disintegration if the nation states were reconfigured, ruled it out. “Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each State” was one of the founding principles of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union. Despite all the wars, internal and external, this principle has been pretty much adhered to by both presidents and people.
Loyalty to an African state is not always related to the ability of that state to make the lives of its people better. Patriotism, an emotional thing, does not take these benefits into account, even in countries where the majority of citizens are marginalised or oppressed by the government. Even in the catastrophic recent meltdown of South Sudan after just two years of independence, no one is advocating return to rule from Khartoum. In the dying days of Mobutu’s Zaire (now the DRC) I was astonished to find that people felt it to be a great country. I asked why Katanga, the rich south east province, didn’t secede – as it had in 1960. My suggestion was greeted with shocked surprise.
On March 25, 2014 designer and one of the most popular RuNet bloggers, Tema Lebedev, announced on his blog that his design studio, ArtLevedev created the logo for the “2014, a Year of Culture” project, commissioned by the Russian government:
Shortly after, one of his readers posted a comment [ru] to his blog, with the logo jokingly photoshoped to look like a swastika:
This image was in picked up by Ukrainian Twitter user Katya Avramchuk, who posted it saying that this was the actual logo designed by Lebedev's studio:
Студия Артемия Лебедева (Эркен Кагаров) разработала логотип Года культуры в России pic.twitter.com/yJLKRFn6zE
— The Avramchuk Post (@avramchuk_katya) March 25, 2014
Artemiy Lebedev's studio (Erken Kagarov) designed the logo for Russia's year of culture.
From here, the Tweet was re-posted [ru] by popular Russian-language Ukrainian Twitter @euromaidan, which tweeted it without attribution. This post has been re-tweeted 389 times. No trace of the original (funny or not) joke remains, just another entry into a name-calling “Who is the bigger Nazi” contest between Russians and Ukrainians.
Russia’s only independent television station, TV Rain, is on its last leg. Following what appears to have been an orchestrated campaign to rob the channel of its cable and satellite distributors, advertisers have run for the hills and the station is being evicted from its Moscow studio at Red October later this year. There’s even a rumor that Lifenews.ru—a Kremlin-friendly outfit that often miraculously reports news before it’s happened—will take over TV Rain’s office space.
As funds dwindle, staff are reduced, and time runs out, many have been asking what TV Rain can do to avoid ruin. We now know what the station will try to do to save itself: a weeklong telethon. “Tomorrow there might not be a TV Rain,” reads the telethon's manifest, “and this week will decide everything.” The station says it will seek viewer funding to continue operating, following the model of public television, which Dmitri Medvedev famously promoted (without great success).
Beginning tomorrow, March 24, 2014, TV Rain will display onscreen a crawling fundraising total. The ticker will convert the money collected into the amount of time the donations can keep TV Rain operating.
Может быть, хватит всего на один день. А может быть, на неделю. Но кто знает — может быть, и на месяцы — всё зависит от вас.
Maybe there will only be enough for another day. Maybe for a week. But who knows—maybe it will be enough for several months. Everything depends on you.
Pavel Durov, Russian entrepreneur and the brains behind the social networking site VKontakte.ru, recently wrote on his page there, that more and more young people are deciding to emigrate from Russia over the past eight months. Durov quipped [ru], “In typical fashion, I've decided to go against the trend — and want to outline seven reasons to stay put in Russia.”
Here are Durov's seven reasons:
1) Low Taxes — Russia has a flat income tax of 13%, something that Europeans can only dream of.
2) Talented People — Russians often show off their talents by becoming champions in many fields, from computer programming to figure skating.
3) Breathtaking Scenery — Russia is a leader in terms of the volume and diversity of natural resources on its territory.
4) Beautiful People — As someone who has spent several years outside of Russia, Durov says that he can confirm that the percentage of beautiful girls in Russia is significantly higher than in most other countries.
5) Freedom of Expression — Taking a creative approach to pushing the envelope is Russia's national characteristic.
6) Potential for Economic Development — Many like to underscore Russia's lack of development. However, thanks to the lack of development, this leaves the possibility to create new possibilities, which developed countries lack.
7) A Rich Cultural History — Russia gave the world dozens of writers, architects, composers, artists, and scientists.
It remains to be seen if these positive aspects of Russian life are enough to outweigh the negative, and convince potential emigrants that they have more of a chance at home.