International media attention was focused on Vladimir Putin's annual televised question-and-answer show with the nation last week. That same day, however, the shadowy group Anonymous International quietly leaked yet another trove of confidential government correspondence.
Anonymous International, also known by the name of its press arm, Shaltai Boltai, made headlines earlier this month by publishing tens of thousands of text messages allegedly from the phone of Timur Prokopenko, an official in the Putin Administration.
The new leak includes screenshots of several thousand emails supposedly from the personal email account of Alexander Zharov, the head of the Kremlin's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor. Even a senior official such as Zharov uses a personal email account to discuss “official and semi-official matters that are of public interest,” Shaltai Boltai wrote in a blog post announcing the release, saying the group decided not to publish some messages that contained certain personal information.
Роскомнадзор читает вас, а мы читаем Роскомнадзор :) http://t.co/6KIVJMJ5c7
— Shaltay Boltay (@b0ltai2) April 16, 2015
Roskomnadzor is reading [your emails], but we are reading Roskomnadzor's [emails] :)
In an analysis of the leaked emails, the website The Insider highlights the half dozen exchanges of the greatest interest and significance. Perhaps the most scandalous information revealed by the new leak is that Mikhail Demin, who became general director of the prominent radio station Ekho Moskvy in December 2014, allegedly coordinated with Zharov about editorial decisions.
One email supposedly showed Demin checking with Zharov about Ekho Moskvy running promotional material for an opposition rally planned for March 1. In response to this apparent revelation, Leonid Volkov, a long-time critic of Ekho Moskvy chief editor Alexey Venediktov and a close associate of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was involved in the planning of the opposition march, tweeted:
Размещением проморолика марша “Весна” занимался Немцов, он говорил, что “Эхо” тянет время – а то было “согласование” https://t.co/nURliEXWJ6
— Leonid Volkov (@leonidvolkov) April 16, 2015
Nemtsov, who was handling distribution of the promotional video for the “Spring” march, said that “Ekho” was taking a long time, but it seems there was “coordination”
As Anonymous International continues to leak confidential government correspondence, the debate surrounding how the group obtains access to so much information, and why the group leaks what it does, when it does, continues to swirl.
In an analysis of the potential legal consequences of Anonymous International's activity, human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov argued that the recent text message leak “reveals the rather nasty working methods of the Presidential Administration, but the correspondence has been so carefully filtered that even if you really wanted to, you’d have trouble finding a convincing criminal offense.” Chikov's commentary suggests that Anonymous International is restrained in some way, aiming more for targeted embarrassment than serious damage.
A recent investigation by Gazeta.ru also considered the “how and why” behind the Anonymous International leaks.
An anonymous expert consulted by Gazeta.ru asserted that the messages released in earlier leaks were most likely accessed from iCloud. This, the expert explained, might have been accomplished in several ways, such as through phishing or the use of a “sniffer,” a program that can intercept and log traffic passing over a digital network, such as a public Wi-Fi network. In short, Gazeta.ru‘s contact concludes that the activities of Anonymous International do not necessarily represent the work of professional hackers, and he even doubts that this is the case. Russia's closed society of serious hackers doesn't even know who is behind Boltai, the contact says.
As for Anonymous International's goals, the Gazeta.ru report first considers the commonly floated theory that some Kremlin insiders are using the leaks to strengthen their own positions and undercut rivals. Many believe the clear target of the leaks is Putin's first deputy chief of staff, Vyacheslav Volodin, and his inner circle. According to another anonymous source, Volodin's enemies within the presidential administration are working with members of the security services, which Gazeta.ru says may explain the alleged breach of the closed domain Gov.ru in an earlier hack of Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev's press attache.
Yet another unnamed source told Gazeta.ru that presidential administration officials who have fallen out of favor may be feeding information to Anonymous International. A different anonymous source claimed that the group's primary purpose is to extort tens of thousands of dollars from officials, and information is leaked when targets do not pay up. A final source, who is “close to the Kremlin,” even claimed Medvedev is behind the leaks, using them to exact petty revenge, while hijacking his own Twitter account to deflect suspicion.
Anonymous International did not seem overly impressed with Gazeta.ru's investigation, however, even taking to Twitter to poke fun at the investigation, which found nearly as many explanations as sources:
http://t.co/PqtzUnlcGb Еще несколько версий на наш счет
— Shaltay Boltay (@b0ltai2) April 17, 2015
[link to Gazeta.ru article] We reckon there are a few other versions