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Massive Russian hacker attack threatens freewheeling Ru.net

Security experts are confused about who is behind the far-reaching cyber attacks, as both Kremlin foes and officials are among those targeted.

By Correspondent / April 8, 2011



Moscow

Russia's biggest social network and its top opposition newspaper have been knocked out by massive hacker attacks over the past week, leading some nervous bloggers to suggest that security services may be testing techniques for shutting down the country's freewheeling Internet in the event of a crisis.

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The list of victims crying foul after the wave of direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks started hitting Russia's LiveJournal site, which has 4.7 million users, include President Dmitry Medvedev. Mr. Medvedev demanded a police inquiry Thursday after his blog on the site was shut down in the online strike.

The increasingly familiar menace of DDoS attacks involve using thousands of linked computers, which have often been "captured" by viruses or malware, to bombard a website with billions of requests for data, paralyzing the servers and preventing regular users from accessing the site.

Experts say the sheer scale of the cyberblitz presently underway points to a large organization, or perhaps secret service, as the culprit. However, they also seem baffled by the apparently indiscriminate targeting that shut down the blogs of Kremlin foes, friends, and top leaders alike.

"It's difficult to see where this might be coming from, because everybody across the political spectrum uses LiveJournal and depends on it," says Rustem Agadamov, a popular Russian blogger. "But it's obviously not simple net hooliganism, because this kind of sustained attack is very expensive and difficult to mount. Nobody's going to waste big resources to no purpose."

Once his blog was restored, a furious Mr. Medvedev took to it to condemn the "outrageous and illegal" actions of the hackers. "What happened must be investigated by the administration of LiveJournal administration and law enforcement agencies," he wrote.

The attacks began two weeks ago with a little noticed DDoS assault on the popular blog of Alexei Navalny, a social campaigner who has been dubbed "Russia's Julian Assange" for using his LiveJournal page to post sensational exposes of corruption in high places, including the alleged theft of $4 billion in the state-owned Transneft oil pipeline company.

But they quickly snowballed, leaving the entire Russian-language service paralyzed for many hours on Monday and Wednesday.

By Friday the focus had switched to the website of the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, which remains shut down amid what its editors allege is an "intense attack of unprecedented scope."

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