Russian spy agencies accused of hacking election monitor sites

FSB officer

FSB officer

Election monitors have accused Russia’s domestic intelligence service of launching a series of coordinated hacking attacks on opposition websites, timed to coincide with last Sunday’s elections. On that day, Russians voted —as they have done every five years since 1991— to determine the composition of the Duma, the country’s lower house. Election results show an unprecedented 14 percent drop for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, coupled with an equally sharp rise in the Communist Party share of the votes, which doubled to about 20 percent. But the election drew strong condemnations from international election monitors, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said that the campaign was “slanted in favor of the ruling party”. Now Russian opposition organizations are accusing the government of launching a series of “massive” distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against their websites on the night of the elections. Websites affected include the prominent opposition magazine The New Times, the Ekho Moskvy radio station, the Russian arm of the Livejournal blogging website, business daily Kommersant, popular online news portal, as well as the Western-financed political watchdog group Golos. All of these outlets were simultaneously attacked on Sunday evening; their servers were bombarded with data that overwhelmed their computer systems and eventually knocked them offline. Liliya Shibanova, who directs Golos, told a news conference in Moscow late on Sunday night that the organization’s Internet and telephone systems, including an election violation hotline, had been blocked. She claimed that only Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the domestic intelligence wing of the Soviet-era KGB, had the resources required to launch such a massive attack. Other opposition activists blamed the attacks on “state-sponsored criminal elements” within Russia. Two days earlier, Shibanova had been detained for several hours at a Moscow airport, and her computer seized, upon returning from a conference in Poland. Reuters also spoke to director, Maxim Kashulinsky, who spoke of his “feeling that [Russia’s] Central Election Commission, the prosecutors and the hackers are acting together”.

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