Hacking collective Anonymous has disabled several Russian government websites, including the state-controlled news service Russia Today.
- RT has been described as an important propaganda outlet for the Russian government
- The DDoS attack flooded the news website with malicious traffic, blocking access for at least several hours
- This is the first attack in an expected wave of ‘cyberactivism’ against the Russian government
Hackers identifying themselves as the Anonymous collective said they had launched cyber operations that briefly took down RT.com, as well as Kremlin, Russian government and Russian Defense Ministry websites.
RT.com confirmed the attack took place, saying it slowed down some websites while taking others offline for “extended periods”.
RT’s coverage of the situation in Ukraine has been overwhelmingly from a pro-Russian perspective, showing fireworks and joyful celebrations in the newly occupied territories.
In the UK, MPs have said the TV channel is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “personal propaganda tool” and should be banned.
DDoS attacks flood websites with traffic
Internet security expert Robert Potter said the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack used involved multiple systems flooding a targeted website so that no further traffic could pass.
“It’s like trying to fit five people through a door at once,” he said.
DDoS attacks are considered easy to mount and easy to defend against.
A simple measure is to disable foreign traffic to a website, which could explain why it currently seems easier to access RT.com from inside Russia than from outside.
“DDoS is rarely more than inconvenient,” Potter said.
But Mr Potter says we are likely to see more anonymous “cyber-activism”.
Anonymous is a decentralized collective with no hierarchy or leadership and is known for tackling a wide range of issues, with previous attacks targeting the CIA, Islamic State and the Church of Scientology.
An anonymous video released on February 15 threatened to hold Russia’s industrial control systems hostage if the Ukraine crisis escalated.
“There is a real risk of country-on-country cyber warfare leading to escalation,” Potter said.
“Any cyber activity that is conceptually anonymous and deniable is more likely to succeed because it will not make matters worse between countries.”
The escalation includes the possibility of a Russian cyber attack on the United States.
In January, a U.S. government intelligence file warned that Russia would “consider” a potentially devastating cyberattack on the United States if NATO intervened to defend Ukraine.
Security experts have also warned that criminal gangs linked to Russia could be encouraged to target Australia with cyberattacks.
Earlier this week, Russian cyber forces launched DDoS attacks on the websites of several Ukrainian banks and ministries.
The Ukrainian government has asked for volunteers from the “underground hacker” to help protect critical infrastructure and spy on Russian troops.