Category Archives: cyberspace

Russia, Land of Bandits (and Proud of it)

The New York Times reports:

On the Internet, he was known as BadB, a disembodied criminal flitting from one server to another selling stolen credit card numbers despite being pursued by the United States Secret Service.

And in real life, he was nearly as untouchable — because he lived in Russia.

BadB’s real name is Vladislav A. Horohorin, according to a statement released last week by the United States Justice Department, and he was a resident of Moscow before his arrest by the police in France during a trip to that country earlier this month.

He is expected to appear soon before a French court that will decide on his potential extradition to the United States, where Mr. Horohorin could face up to 12 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 if he is convicted on charges of fraud and identity theft. For at least nine months, however, he lived openly in Moscow as one of the world’s most wanted computer criminals.

The seizing of BadB provides a lens onto the shadowy world of Russian hackers, the often well-educated and sometimes darkly ingenious programmers who pose a recognized security threat to online commerce — besides being global spam nuisances — who often seem to operate with relative impunity.

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Russian Cyber Gangs on the Rampage reports:

Flashback, early 2008: Citibank officials are witnessing a huge spike in fraudulent withdrawals from New York area ATMs — $180,000 is stolen from cash machines on the Upper East Side in just three days.  After a stakeout, police arrest one man walking out of a bank with thousands of dollars in cash and 12 reprogrammed cards. A lucky traffic stop catches two more plunderers who’d driven in from Michigan. Another pair are arrested after trying to mug an undercover FBI agent on the street for a magstripe encoder. In the end, there are 10 arrests and at least $2 million dollars stolen.

The wellspring of the dramatic megaheist turns out to be more prosaic than imagined: It started with a breach of the public website of America’s most famous convenience store chain:

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EDITORIAL: Russia’s Internet, Officially Dead


Russia’s Internet, Officially Dead

It doesn’t get much more official than this:  Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Council of the Federation (Russia’s version of the U.S. Senate or British House of Lords) openly declares (Russian language link), contradicting both Dima Medvedev and the Russophile hoards:  “RuNet doesn’t perform the civic and social functions that it does in other countries.” (In Russian:  “Хуже то, что Рунет варится в собственном соку и не выполняет тех гражданских и социальных функций, которые являются общепринятыми в других странаx.”) He continues:

It was expected that the Internet would help crystallize and mobilize parts of the civil society that are interested in a broad sweep of constructive reforms. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened yet. Sites of NGOs – including those of human rights organizations that defend the interests of the population – recieve less than 1% of the Russian Internet traffic.

Well, that’s it then. 

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Beware of Russian Cyber Gangs!

PC World reports:

Russian cybergangs have established a robust system for promoting Web sites that sell fake antivirus software, pharmaceuticals and counterfeit luxury products, according to a new report from security vendor Sophos.

To sell bogus goods, many of those sites rely on hundreds of “affiliate networks,” which are essentially contractors that find ways to direct Web users to the bad sites, wrote Dmitry Samosseiko, a Sophos analyst. He made a presentation this week at the Virus Bulletin security conference in Geneva.

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EDITORIAL: Long Knives in Sukhumi


Long Knives in Sukhumi

Blogging on Live Journal (backed up on Google), Twitter and Facebook, a Georgian lecturer on economics at Sukhumi State University named “Giorgi” last week faced a massive campaign of cyberwar from Russia (read his posts in translation here and here).  Thanks to the free advertising from his beloved Russians, which got him written about in such places as the Times of London and interviewed by The Guardian, by the time the dust settled and he was fully back online (though the LJ blog still seems to be under assault), laughing at the Russian cowards who attacked him, the professor (who blogs as “cyxymu,” which looks like the Russian script for Sukhumi) now has well over 2,000 followers on Twitter and is ten thousand times more well read than before the crazed Russophile set tried to silence him. By the weekend, there were nearly 1,000 articles in the mainstream Western press blaming Russia and praising the Georgian’s courage.

Nice job, Russians! Maybe you’d like to do the same favor for La Russophobe?

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The Kremlin’s Army of Blogger Zombies

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Evegeny Morozov, blogging at Foreign Policy:

One of the Kremlin’s pet new media projects has been a site called It’s been set up under the auspices of the Fund for Effective Politics, a think-tank headed by Gleb Pavlovsky, who has been instrumental in shaping the Russian ideology of the last decade. The official objective of — as articulated by Pavlovsky — has been to tap into the immense creativity of the Russian internet users and involve them in producing ideas that could make Kremlin’s increasingly unappealing ideological package relevant to the younger generations. was meant to become something like Russia’s DailyKos or Talking Points Memo.

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EDITORIAL: Russia Today Declares war on USA

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Russia Today Declares war on USA

If the KGB regime of Vladimir Putin is looking to “reset” relations with the world’s only superpower, rather than to ratchet up cold-war tension, it sure has a funny way of showing it.  Dripping with anti-American poison,  a recent RT item on Kremlin-controlled propaganda network Russia Today recently threatened that Russian hackers would cause satellites to drop out of the sky on Los Angeles at will if America wasn’t careful.

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Russia admits to Cyber Attack on Estonia

The always brilliant Robert Coalson of Radio Free Europe reports:

In the spring of 2007, a cyberattack on Estonia blocked websites and paralyzed the country’s entire Internet infrastructure. At the peak of the crisis, bank cards and mobile-phone networks were temporarily frozen, setting off alarm bells in the tech-dependent country — and in NATO as well.

The cyberattacks came at a time when Estonia was embroiled in a dispute with Russia over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from the center of  Tallinn. Moscow denied any involvement in the attacks, but Estonian officials were convinced of Russia’s involvement in the plot.

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Tech War with Putin’s Russia

 Writing on Dark Reading Rob Enderle, president and founder of Enderle Group, warns of a coming “tech war” with Putin’s Russia:

I was reading the withering comments Vladimir Putin made to Michael Dell in response to Dell’s offer to help Russia. Though Putin is Russia’s prime minister, he clearly is also the guy who is running the country. Reading between the lines, I think it is likely he is driving a technology war with the U.S. — and that has some rather scary implications.

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Cold War II Battlefront: It Starts in Cyberspace

The Washington Post reports:

A political battle is raging in Russian cyberspace. Opposition parties and independent media say murky forces have committed vast resources to hacking and crippling their Web sites in attacks similar to those that hit tech-savvy Estonia as the Baltic nation sparred with Russia over a Soviet war memorial. While they offer no proof, the groups all point the finger at the Kremlin, calling the electronic siege an attempt to stifle Russia’s last source of free, unfiltered information. The victims, who range from liberal democrats to ultranationalists, allege their hacker adversaries hope to harass the opposition with the approach of parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections in next March.

Some independent experts agree. “A huge information war awaits Russia before the elections,” said Oleg Panfilov of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. The groups claim the attackers use vast, online networks of computers infected with malicious software — whose owners probably aren’t aware they are involved — to paralyze or erase targeted Web sites. Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst believed to have close ties to Kremlin insiders, said a senior associate of President Vladimir Putin is leading the cyber assault. The government denies it and insists it has nothing to do with the onslaught. The Kremlin said hackers could easily forge Internet Protocol addresses registered to government offices. Belkovsky, founder of the Moscow-based National Strategy Institute, said the Kremlin is upset that it has been unable to control the political content of online media. “The Kremlin can’t just tell their editors to remove an unwanted publication,” he said.

The attacks are similar to assaults _ sometimes a million computers-strong _ unleashed in April and early May against Web sites in Estonia. Officials there say waves of attacks crashed dozens of government, corporate and media Web sites in one of Europe’s most wired societies. The cyber warfare included computer-generated spam and so-called Distributed Denial-of-Service, or DDoS, attacks. It erupted during violent protests by ethnic Russians against the decision to move a Soviet-era Red Army monument out of downtown Tallinn, the Estonian capital. The DDoS attacks involve a flood of computers all trying to connect to a single site at the same time, overwhelming the computer server that handles the traffic. Estonian authorities claimed they traced the attacks to Kremlin IP addresses.

Outside experts say blocking this type of Web assault is difficult or impossible because the host server has no way of distinguishing between legitimate and bogus requests for access. “It doesn’t matter if the Web site itself has a lot of protection,” said Hari Balakrishnan, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “People are not breaking into it. People are just making requests of it.”

Government security services have long been suspected of engaging in hacking. In 1999, an unidentified hacker in Moscow penetrated U.S. Defense Department computers for more than a year, copying classified naval codes and data on missile guidance systems. The Kremlin denied involvement. The Chinese government is suspected of using the Web to break into computers at the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies between 2003 and 2005, in what was dubbed Operation Titan Rain. Since 2001, Chinese “hacktivists” have organized attacks on and defaced U.S. Web sites to oppose what they call the imperialism of the United States and Japan. China has set up an extensive surveillance system to prevent its citizens from accessing online materials considered obscene or politically subversive. Russia does not filter or block Web sites, and the Internet plays a critical role as the only form of mass media over which the government has no control.

The Kremlin, either directly or indirectly, owns the three major national television networks, major radio networks, wire services and print publications. Meanwhile the remaining independent media, face growing pressure to engage in self-censorship. In March, Putin created an agency that will license broadcast, print and online media. The following month, the government banned what it considered extremist statements — such as those by pro-separatist Chechen Web sites or supporters of legalizing marijuana — and broadened the definition of extremism. The legislation covers slander or libel of a government official, but it’s up to a court decide whether it counts as extremism. The new law resulted in a string of fines, warnings and trials for Russia’s online journalists, bloggers and participants in politicized Web forums. Critics fear the Kremlin could use these and other measures to resurrect Soviet-style media monitoring and censorship.

So far, however, the Web has operated largely outside government control and has grown into the opposition’s main tool for recruiting and organizing. Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion turned opposition leader, was only half-joking when he told The Associated Press in May: “YouTube for the Russian opposition is the only way to communicate.” But reliance on the Web also makes the opposition vulnerable to hackers. The outlawed National Bolshevik party says its Web sites were repeatedly hacked between February and April, as the nationalist group used the Internet to marshal “Dissenters’ Marches” in Moscow, St. Petersburg and elsewhere. The attacks were sophisticated as well as massive, said Alexei Sochnev, who is in charge of the National Bolsheviks’ online network. “They killed the entire U.S. server that hosted us,” he said. When the attacks ended, traffic fell by about two-thirds, from 6,000 to just 2,000 visits a day. Group leaders say the crash cut attendance at opposition rallies.

Mainstream media have also come under cyber-assault, especially when they carry information likely to draw the attention of the government. Kommersant’s Web editor, Pavel Chernikov, said the major daily newspaper’s site was attacked in early May. He called it retaliation for publishing a transcript of the interrogation of Boris Berezovsky — a self-exiled oligarch who lives in London — by Russian investigators. While British prosecutors have identified a former KGB agent living in Moscow as the prime suspect in the murder of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, Russian authorities have focused on Berezovsky, Putin’s political foe. On the same morning, the Web site of Ekho Moskvy, a liberal Moscow radio station where criticism of Kremlin policies can often be heard, was brought down by a DDoS attack.

Similar tactics have frequently been used by Western hackers — in 2000, the Web sites of CNN, Yahoo! and eBay were paralyzed by online blackmailers. Massive attacks in 2002 and February 2007 attempted to disable the Internet itself. The United States — especially the government sector — was the target of more than a half of DDoS attacks worldwide, according to Symantec. The FBI recently arrested several DDoS hackers as part of “Operation Bot Roast” sting. Nothing of the kind is happening in Russia. Panfilov of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations said Russian opposition Web sites will find themselves under increasing pressure as election season heats up. “There will be purges of online publications, shutdowns or takeovers of last independent media outlets and strong pressure on Web users,” he said.