Category Archives: internet

Russia, Virtually Toxic

The Moscow Times reports:

A computer virus controlled by as few as three people in Russia is accused of taking control of more than 2 million computers around the world and perhaps stealing more than $100 million.

The cyber crime ring, which operated for a decade, was shut down this week after U.S. officials got a court go-ahead to seize hard drives used to run the malicious software, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The computer virus, dubbed Coreflood, infected more than 2 million PCs, enslaving them into a “botnet” that grabbed banking credentials and other sensitive data that its masters used to steal funds via fraudulent banking and wire transactions, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

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EDITORIAL: Putin Knifes the Infant RuNet


Putin Knifes the Infant RuNet

Georgia:  35

Russia: 52

If we were talking international basketball scores, those would be good numbers for Russia.  But we’re not. We’re talking Internet freedom, as analyzed by Freedom House.  The higher the score, the less the freedom.

FH reviewed Internet access among a group of 37 countries around the world, and found that Georgia ranks #12 in the group, in the top third and right behind South Korea, while Russia ranks #22, right behind Rwanda and well into the bottom half of all countries surveyed.  In the group of nations designated by FH as “partly free” only four have lower scores than Russia (including Egypt at 54 and Pakistan at 55).  The USA’s score is 13, surpassed in the group only by Estonia.

Twice as many Russian bloggers were arrested in the most recent survey period compared to the last one. Russia’s rank fell three places since the prior survey, and its score got much worse, from 49 in 2009 to 52 in 2011.

If course, it may not matter much how free or unfree Russia’s Internet is, because according to FH two-thirds of the Russian population has no Internet access at all.

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EDITORIAL: Russia, Land of Bandits


Russia, Land of Bandits

The image above shows the dictator of Libya and the dictator of Russia flying in attack aircraft to bomb their own populations in to submission, with the Russian using a computer attack rather than an explosive. It is the work of the genius Russian cartoonist Sergei Yelkin, better known as Ellustrator, an refers to a recent massive cyber attack on the Live Journal blogging network in Russia which shut down the entire service for the better part of a day (even the blog of so-called Russian “president” Dima Medvedev was affected — interestingly, Vladimir Putin is not a blogger and was left unscathed). A few days later a massive attack was launched on the website of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s leading opposition newspaper.  Both Anton Nosik and Alexei Navalny, the two titans of the Russian blogosphere, made it clear that the Putin Kremlin was to blame, in preparation for the rigging of the next presidential “elections.”

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Maria Litvinovich Speaks

The heroic Russian activist Marina Litvinovich

One of our favorite Russia blogs, Global Voices, interviews one of our favorite bloggers, the epic Russian patriot Marina Litvinovich:

Marina Litvinovich is a blogger, civic rights and human rights activist. After a career in political consulting, an investigation of the Beslan hostage crisis, and participation in the liberal opposition movement, Marina has become one of the most influential activist bloggers in Russia. In this interview Marina shares her thoughts on her own blogging, as well as how the internet might affect deeper social and political changes in Russia.

Her blog has played a significant role in launching independent investigations, in cases such as the “Lukoil” car crash case as well as the “Live Barrier” case. Recently, Litvinovich launched “Best Today”, a web-aggregator that monitors the Russian blogosphere. You can read more about her background here and here.

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EDITORIAL: Putin’s Internet Crackdown in Russia


Putin’s Internet Crackdown in Russia

Rustem Adagamov says:  “The Internet is the last free territory [in Russia] — but it won’t stay that way for long.”

He’d know.  He’s the most widely-read blogger in Russia, holding forth as “Drugoi” (“The Other”) on Live Journal.

You don’t have to look hard to find examples that prove he’s right.

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The Blogosphere vs. Vladimir Putin

Victor Davidoff, writing in the Moscow Times:

A few weeks ago the Russian blogosphere was shocked by a story out of Vladivostok involving a single mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer. The waiting list for an operation was so long that she decided to take her fate into her own hands. Since she had four years of medical school education, she gave herself a local anesthetic, picked up a scalpel and excised the tumor. She did the operation in her living room, having first closed her two daughters in the kitchen.

As barbaric as this case was, it reflected a remarkable change in the Russian mentality. Russians are beginning to give up the flawed belief, grounded in decades of Soviet paternalism, that the government should solve their problems. Now, they are taking charge of their own affairs.

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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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The Putin Kremlin, Bribing Bloggers

Global Voices reports on the only way Vladimir Putin can win friends and influence people (other than crude violence).  Note the false analogy to the U.S. — there is no evidence of the American police forces paying bloggers to paper over their human-rights abuses for cash, and if there were it would be a gigantic international scandal.  Procter & Gamble paying a consumer blogger to say he likes Head & Shoulders is hardly the same as the Russian state paying a political blogger to say the police don’t crack skulls.

Recently, Roman Dobrokhotov, a Russian blogger and political activist (who was interviewed by GV [EN] last year), has conducted an investigation [RUS] on how paid blogger networks function in the Russian blogosphere. He wrote that different representatives of the paid blogger network had contacted him three times, offering from $23 to $50 per post. Every blogger who agrees to provide content for a fee is supposed to choose a unique angle when writing about a certain topic. The latest offer that Dobrokhotov received was quite unusual: to write positive comments about the Russian police:

A manager of the company Garin-studio offered me to post a whole series of posts with some positive content about the police. For the first post – 2,000 rubles ($63), all others – 1,000 rubles each ($31). I’ve managed to unearth more detailed information. It turned out that the client of the company is the federal Ministry of the Interior, not the Moscow Police Department; what is even more interesting, the order was from the Department of Internal Security [which is supposed to control and monitor the police itself] (aha, so that’s what they do!). There are 50 bloggers involved in this project, though with some of them, with the most popular (for example, with Radulova), the client is in direct contact. Garin-studio, as far as I understood, isn’t the only contractor used by [the Ministry of the Interior].

Other bloggers spotted [RUS] some nearly simultaneous posts with positive comments about the police at Natalia Radulova’s blog [RUS] and at another popular blog by Maxim Aleksandrov [RUS].

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Interview: Julia Ioffe at the New Yorker

Julia Ioffe

In a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine, Russia blogger Julia Ioffe wrote about the Russian teen who created Chatroulette.  Ioffe also answered questions from the magazine’s readers in a live chat.  Here is the transcript:

JULIA IOFFE: Hello, everyone! Julia Ioffe here, and very happy to be here. Can’t wait to get at some of these questions.

QUESTION FROM ARUIZCAMACHO: Your portrait of Ternovskiy’s first acquaintance with America is very poignant. Have you kept in touch with him? How’s he adjusting to his new country lately?

JULIA IOFFE: Yes, I’ve tried to stay in touch with Andrey, partially because it’s hard to just let go of an interesting person you get to know so well by reporting a story. It was also especially interesting to me to hear how he was adjusting to America given his high hopes for the place. At first, and especially after he got to San Francisco, he seemed to swoon a bit. Then as reality hit—meetings, the need to work and improve the site, the loneliness of turning 18 without your family—he cooled to it and told me that America is just like everywhere else—boring.

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EDITORIAL: The End of the Russian Internet


The End of the Russian Internet

The Russian wire service RBK Daily broke a rather sensational story last week:  The Putin regime is going into the search engine business.  Foreign Policy’s Evgeny Morozov writes that Kremlin functionary Igor Ashmanov declared on Echo of Moscow radio that since Google is nothing more than a pawn of the U.S. government, there is no reason why the Kremlin should not have its own.  Morozov continues:

According to RBK’s anonymous sources inside Kremlin, it would aim at satisfying “state-oriented” needs such as “facilitating access to safe information” and “filtering web-sites that feature banned content.” It’s going to be an ambitious project: the government is prepared to invest $100 million in this new venture, does not want to allow any foreign funding, and intends to build it in cooperation with the private sector.

So much for the notion that the Russian Kremlin cannot affect control over the Russian Internet and/or has no intention of doing so. Once the Kremlin has it’s own search engine in place, it can simply remove all the others from the net.

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EDITORIAL: Russia’s Lame excuse for an “Internet”


Russia’s Lame excuse for an Internet

A recent article on the website (Russian language link) confirms that two-thirds of Russian households have no access to the Internet (only 0.1% of Russians use Twitter).  That’s not news, of course, we’ve often reported on Russia’s puny level of Internet penetration, and it’s no surprise:  In a country where the average wage is $3/hour, but where Internet access costs the same as it does in the West, paying for Internet access is a luxury few can afford.  And as we’ve said before (click the “Internet” category in our sidebar to read our extensive reporting on this subject), the one-third figure is a gross overstatment of Russia’s true level of Internet access, because it includes as “users” those who may go online as rarely as once a month and then only for a few minutes.

But the Lenta article did report a surprising fact:  It stated that half of all respondents who could access the Internet were doing so by means of their cell phones.  

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The Putin Internet Crackdown Escalates

An advertisement for Beeline

Other Russia reports:

The meaning of extremism in Russia has expanded to include basic forms of dissent, according to Representative Evgeny Arkhipov of the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights.

In a press release on Monday, Arkhipov stated that the news of a Russian telecommunications firm banning access to opposition websites was evidence of a growing trend in the country to persecute dissident activism as extremism.

“In this case, the actions of the authorities have once again confirmed that the country and political system are striving towards totalitarianism,” the lawyer asserted. “This tendency will continue down the road, with tougher methods in the battle against dissent and civil opposition movement and with the suppression of the basic rights and freedoms of citizens.”

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The Final Solution for Russia’s Internet

“This idea is absurd, awkward and useless. Cyrillic domains are just the first step toward fundamentally creating a separate and fully controlled ‘territory’ in the global network. All these measures will significantly weaken, if not eliminate, the possibility of foreign information influencing the population of Russia, especially the younger generation. It will ensure that their vision of the world better corresponds to the ideology of Russia’s rulers.”

–A Russian commenter on the New York Times Russian language website, responding to the idea that Russia will have Internet domain names in the Cyrillic alphabet

The New York Times reports:

The Kremlin has long been irritated by the way the United States dominates the Internet, all the way down to the ban on using Cyrillic for Web addresses — even has to be demeaningly rendered in English. The Russian government, as a result, is taking the lead in a landmark shift occurring around the world to allow domain names in languages with non-Latin alphabets.

Russians themselves, though, do not seem at all eager to follow.

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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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Russia and Zynga, Birds of a Corrupt Feather

GAWKER reports:

Alisher Usmanov is nicknamed “the hard man of Russia,” but he’s good at seducing the softies in California’s tech community: An investment firm he backs lead a $180 million investment in Zynga, the gaming company that trafficked in scammy ads.

The investment firm, Russia’s Digital Sky Technologies, led a broader group of investors in putting money into San Francisco-based Zynga,according to the New York Times. It’s DST’s second Silicon Valley conquest, following two investments in Facebook earlier this year that totaled $300 million and that allowed the social network to cash out employee equity.

Usmanov (pictured), who reportedly owns 32 percent of DST, comes with the sort of unsavory press clippings worthy of a long-survivng oligarch in anarchic, organized-crime-ridden Russia: He’s been accused by a former British ambassador of being a “gangster and racketeer” and of close ties to mafia drug trafficking and, as we’ve reported previously, controversially tried to censor bloggers who linked to news of the accusations.

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Revolution by Advertisement?

The Washington Post reports:

What are people Googling in Russia? A group called Ovoscham replaced bus shelter ads on the streets of Moscow with their own subverted Google ads which read more like political commentary. The ads takes the familiar Google ads showing what a celebrity is Googling, and turns it on its head. Umapper founder Adrei Taraschuk provides us with the following translation for search queries in one of the ads, presumably showing what a typical Russian citizen might be looking for:

Police without bribes Government for the people Construction without rollbacks Alternative during elections Fun without alcohol Whistle blowers (or people with active civil position) Television without lies

There are more details on this blog (in Russian). The video embedded above shows two men swapping out the ads in blue jumpsuits. You never quite see their faces. Is that Larry and Sergey?

EDITORIAL: Putin’s Final Solution for the Internet


Putin’s Final Solution for the Internet

We’ve repeatedly documented that only a tiny sliver of Russian society has full-fledged access to the Internet (just click the “Internet” category in our sidebar to read all the facts).  But it appears that if even one person is able to go online and read the truth about neo-Soviet Russia, that’s one too many for dictator Vladimir Putin.

The world learned the horrifying details earlier this week about Putin’s final solution for the Internet.  It’s a two-pronged attack on content. First, he directly assaults bloggers and content generators, both with civil and criminal action in court to terrorize them into submission. Then, he chokes off the content providers. 

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EDITORIAL: Same Old Russia


Same Old Russia

On Friday, as more than 650 people —including a significant number of government officials — were traveling to St. Petersburg from Moscow, the Nevsky Express luxury train was bombed, killing 26 people and wounding more than 100.  One of the most striking features of this incident is how Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made no public comments for two days after it happened. Putin — who likes to display his strength by posing shirtless while on vacation — shows a conspicuous lack of strength after terrorist attacks occur in Russia. Usually, he remains silent. Remember how he kept silent during the Dubrovka theater siege and the terrorist attack on Beslan School No. 1.

–Yulia Latynina, The Moscow Times, December 2, 2009

Putin may have been too busy arresting bloggers to worry about terrorists and their bombs.

In our last issue, we wrote about how the Kremlin continues to lay siege to the Russian blogosphere, persecuting and prosecuting bloggers who dare to criticize power with legal process that could leave them bankrupt and in prison just like dissident oligarch Mikhail Khdorkovsky.

And earlier this week we saw an example of just why the Kremlin is still so worried about the power of the Internet, even though only a tiny fraction of Russian citizens can access it.

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EDTORIAL: A Blogosphere under Siege in Putin’s Russia


A Blogosphere under Siege in Putin’s Russia

Irek Murtazin

Even though, as we’ve repeatedly shown, less than a fifth of the Russian population has Internet access, that’s way too much freedom of information for the Kremlin’s taste. 

Because of this, the Putin regime has been engaged in a feverish, Stalin-like crackdown on bloggers from the first moments it took power. 

Alexei Sidorenko of Global Voices reports on the two most recent casualties in this final battle for the Russian soul.

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EDITORIAL: Russia and its Future


Russia and its Future

The future of Russia

The chart above is translated from the Russian website Rumetrika (Russian language link) and shows the source of information relied upon by Russian young people aged 16-26.  Horrifyingly, the graphic shows that the older a Russian gets, the less he relies upon the Internet and the more he relies upon TV.  In the oldest age range, more than twice as many got their news from television than relied upon the Internet, and gossip from friends was nearly as popular as the Internet.  Less than one third of the people in this group read newspapers, and half was cut off from the Internet entirely.

Let’s be perfectly clear:  Those gigantic columns on the left side of the chart represent not just TV, but state-owned, Kremlin-operated TV.  Even though, in other words, Russia is supposedly a “free” society, just as much indoctrination and brainwashing is going on now as there was in Soviet times.

So much for the bizarre notion that the Internet can save Russia.

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EDITORIAL: Kim & Dima Sittin’ in a Tree!


Kim & Dima Sittin’ in a Tree!

It probably does not surprise you to learn that blogger Dima Medvedev, whose other job is “president” of Russia, has a Facebook page:

But it may surprise you to learn who his friends are.  He’s got nearly 2,000 of them (granted, a relatively small number for a country with perhaps 15 million people able to access the Internet, to say nothing of the wider world; Barack Obama for instance has nearly 7 million friends — ouch!) and among them is . . . yes, you guessed it . . . . (those who are at risk for cardiac arrest induced by uncontrollable fits of hilarity should not click the jump, you have been warned) . . .

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EDITORIAL: The Fall of Yandex


The Fall of Yandex

yandex1We’ve repeatedly exposed the absurd neo-Soviet lie that Russia has a viable Internet society.  In fact, virtually nobody in Russia has the means to access the Internet, and those who manage to get there find only a ravaged wasteland of neo-Soviet terror and repression. But the Kremlin is still not satisfied, and now it has moved against the Yandex search engine, Russia’s Google, forcing it to shut down one of its most powerful features, its blog traffic ranking. 

This wonderful feature gave bloggers the power to generate national attention when they reported important news, and generate it at the grass-roots level through the democracy of simply counting web hits (in the words of one leading Russian blogger “the ranking is created by a robot on the basis of objective parameters”).  It gave bloggers the ability to turn a wave of opposition into a tsunami, and so of course the Kremlin simply could not tolerate it.

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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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EDITORIAL: Russia and the Internet


Russia and the Internet

As we’ve said before, we feel that the most pernicious lie being circulated by the Russian Kremlin and its Russophile apologists is that it doesn’t matter if the Kremlin crushes the life out of news reporting on television and in print because Russia’s Internet can pick up any slack there may be.  Of course, such a position is illogical, since if it were true the Kremlin’s frenzied efforts to dominate TV and newspapers would be a laughable waste of time, and not even the Kremlin is that stupid. It isn’t, of course, because  for two simple reasons hardly anybody in Russia can get their news from the Internet.   First, it costs too much. When the average national wage is $3/hour and inflation is double-digit, people have better things to do with their money. Like eating and staying warm.  Second, it’s under seige. Bloggers have been arrested and prosecuted, they’ve been threatened and attacked, and service providers have been shut down outright.

The data, even Russia data, proves this beyond the shadow of any doubt.

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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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