Articles tagged with: Hacktivism
Editor’s note: Google and Opera appear to have been blocked in Turkmenistan — or have they? neweurasia’s Annasoltan explores the mix of censorship, incompetence, and terrible infrastructure that constitutes the “shoddy omnipotence” of government digital control, and why this is both a source of distress and hope.
There’s more funny business going on in the Turkmenet. Recently I heard many Turkmenetizens complaining increasingly about this or that Google service not working. Google Analytics went out of service for a little while, and now Gmail seems to be down on Android-enabled smartphones, while remaining accessible via the UC browser. Google’s Android smartphone also appears to have been affected. However, what’s more worrying is that the Opera mini-browser also appears to be blacked out for the past five consecutive days.
Opera is a major player in the CIS. Since 2010, its regular browser been the most widely used means for surfing the Web in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, while its mini browser for mobile platforms claims 350,000 Armenian users and a monstrous 70% of all Russian mobile Internet users. For those of us interested in the freedom of information, this is reason to celebrate, for neweurasia learned back in June, as a result of Kazakhstan’s WordPress ban, that Opera’s regular browser’s “turbo” function serves as a kind of accidental proxy server. Meanwhile, Opera mini has been used as a cost-effective method to access sites that are either blocked or access to which is expensive because of telecom rates or difficult because of low quality desktop computers, such as Facebook — and for the cherry on top, there is now also a hacked version of Opera mini with a built-in proxy.
So, how can all these blackouts be possibly explained? Since the Turkmen government keeps its restrictions on telephone and Internet communication in the country secret, the picture is often not immediately clear. Further complicating the situation are neverendingly conflicting reports about access itself (remember the huge debate when neweurasia‘s Schwartz told Al Jazeera that Internet cafes in Turkmenistan require passports to enter?) So, instead of trying to diagnose these specific incidents with Google and Opera, I think it’s more worthwhile to fit them into a bigger diagnosis of the general cyber-disease in my country: a combination of censorship, incompetence, and terrible infrastructure.
We at NewEurasia hear all sorts of rumors about the monitoring powers of the countries we observe and work in, but often we don’t really have a concrete sense about what they can and cannot really do. Well, earlier this month WikiLeaks released the Spy Files, a leak practically tailor-made for us. In my opinion, it could be their most substantive leak so far (I say that recognizing all the pros and cons that goes with such a statement), although with nearly none of the fanfare/hype that accompanied its earlier mega-leaks.
The Spy Files so far are constituted of 287 documents collected from 160 international intelligence contractors (no word on exactly how) over the last few years. The database is mostly sales brochures and PowerPoint presentations but apparently also includes internal documents of such companies like Gamma corporation in the United Kingdom, Ipoque of Germany, Amesys and Vupen in France, VASTech in South Africa, ZTE Corp in China, Phoenexia in the Czech Republic, SS8 and Blue Coat in the USA, our ever-reliable friends at Siemens, so on and so on. This industry is almost completely unregulated — and it’s quite a hydra.
Unfortunately, the Spy Files haven’t yet revealed anything about the Central Asian republics. However, we now know a little bit about our friends to the North. Russia has/had capabilities in sms monitoring, speech analysis, and phone monitoring, particularly mobile forensic analysis for smartphones and audio forensics (I should note that a lot of the information in question is a few years old, so what we do know is already out of date, but it suffices to give an unhappy idea). The tech comes to them courtesy of the companies Oxygen Software and Speech Technology Center, Ltd. No word yet on some of the really scare stuff that has been known to find its way into the occasional Russian nationalist hacker.
Editor’s note: The Turkmenet may be very small and very young, but it’s certainly developing at a remarkable rate, and not always in ways that can be clearly said to be good or bad. neweurasia’s Annasoltan explores the rise of hacking in this new space and its particularly Turkmen flavor. [The images above are proxy instructions for a Symbian-enabled smartphone from a Turkmen social site. Sensitive information has been removed from them for security reasons.]
Despite the Internet having so little penetration in Turkmenistan – somewhere in the vicinity of 1.6% of the population or 80,400 users according to the World Bank and United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – already it’s exhibiting many of the hallmarks of a much more mature cyberscape, right down to hackers.
The cyber-attack against the Chronicles of Turkmenistan this past summer, not to mention the related e-mail sent to neweurasia, was quite an eye-opener on the Turkmenet’s rapidly increasing capacities for digital misbehavior (although Schwartz suspects that the hacker from that incident, “0fx0”, was a hired gun). Since then, there have been cyber-attacks against the personal accounts of several prominent Turkmen journalists and human rights activists, including against a close friend of mine.
However, far less dramatic has been the emergence of more “mundane” — but no less dangerous — forms of hacking.
The founder and former editor of Svoboda Slova newspaper, Guljan Yergaliyeva, is the racy and outspoken – in a very good way – prominent and controversial Kazakh journalist who most recently ‘bared it all to tell the truth’ and opened her own news website guljan.org. Check out neweurasia’s coverage on the liberating story: “A Kazakh journalist strips naked for the truth”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the journalist told other journalists on July 21st in Almaty that “her website has been under attack since July 15. She said the attack was likely connected to the content on the website.” In attempts to find and stop the hackers, she sent letters to KazakhTelecom, Kazakhstan’s Internet provider, and also to the Communications and Information Ministry. In addition, the journalist is also reaching out to international Internet organizations to help solve the problem.
The guljan.org article “Кто покушается на guljan: Организованная атака на наш сайт” “Who attempts to guljan: Organized attack on our site” – which explains the site’s attack(s) in full – concludes with saying:
“…want to become commonplace in Kazakhstan conclusion: there is no real freedom in KZ — speech, conscience, assembly, opinion, competition, and much of what is needed democratic country. And while this country will keep on “parole” of President Nazarbayev, and not on the basis of the Constitution, we will always live under the pressure of this DOS (in Kazakh, friendly) attacks.”
Farid Tukhbatullin, head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), of which the Chronicles of Turkmenistan (chrono-tm.org is the press service, has sent the following statement to journalists:
On 18 July in the morning the website of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” was hacked.
The website has been operating for about six years. Throughout these years it has posted thousands of articles, news casts and photos from Turkmenistan — the country where it is extremely difficult to obtain unbiased information.
During the days when the arms depot explosions occurred near Ashgabat, our website remained the only source of information providing coverage of the developments. Despite the risks of repressions by the Turkmen special services, our correspondents gained information from Abadan and forwarded it along with photo and video materials, which were subsequently posted on the website “Chronicles of Turkmenistan”.
Under the circumstances where the Turkmen authorities did not give any coverage of the explosions, Russian, European, US and other foreign media published our materials referring to the information from our website.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry made statements about “disseminating deliberately misleading information”, implying our materials. Special service agents paid daily visits to the house of the website editors’ mother, who lives in Turkmenistan, exerting serious psychological pressure on the elderly woman. Now the website has been hacked:
If the Turkmen authorities had arguments, refuting our publications, they would need neither public statements, nor covert repressions and other actions designed to suppress freedom of speech. They do not have any arguments, nor can they realize that one can fight against freedom of speech but cannot defeat it.
The TIHR is making all efforts to restore the website as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the chrono-tm.org site appears to be trying to re-establish itself (see: screenshot).
This morning I received the following e-mail from “00 fx”:
I have 2 news for you, one good, one bad.
You will no longer be able to access the chrono-tm.org website! OMG NOoo!! :-((
Good news is, we are releasing their database, including list of subscribers, email addresses of comment authors, unpublished comments, etc etc…
Here is the first part, enjoy!
Stay tuned, we’ll have more good and bad news for you!!
I checked both the URL the individual provided and it does indeed appear to be subscription lists. I also checked the Chronicles of Turkmenistan website (http://www.chromo-tm.org), which is currently down (see: screenshot above/quote below). Clearly, a cyber-attack is underway.
íå ìîãó ñîåäèíèòñÿ ñ áàçîé!
Benutzer ‘chrono_tmorg’ hat mehr als ‘max_user_connections’ aktive Verbindungen
Needless to say, given the situation for free thought and free press in Turkmenistan, the subscription lists for the Chronicles are definitely very sensitive materials. Many activists and Turkmenistan observers could be in danger.
Perhaps this is crossing the line from detached journalism into activism, but neweurasia is advising all Turkmenistan observers to check their security procedures immediately. As a basic precaution, be sure to change your passwords.
Readers need to understand how nasty my nation’s regime is, how much it cannot emotionally and intellectually tolerate criticism and how far it is willing to go to protect its fragile sense of self. It’s heartbreaking to see, because everyone suffers — patriots, normal people, activists, everyone.
Here’s more evidence of how much state-narcissism has skewed the priorities of my nation. Following up on Berdimuhammedov’s now notorious speech about reviving the KGB legacy to attack independent media and other real and imagined threats to Turkmenistan’s totalitarian regime, there comes this worrying news from EurasiaNet:
Yesterday the Kazakh Parliament’s lower chamber has approved the first reading of the draft law on online regulation, which is meant to equate all websites (including blogs, social networks, chatrooms, forums and even online shops) with mass media. On the other hand of this law, the authorities will be granted the right to block any local or foreign website for “violation of the national legislation”. The decision to block it would be issued by the general prosecutor, and approved by the city court of Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Many bloggers believe that the government wants a legal tool for filtering of the web. LiveJournal, a leading platform in the Russian-language blogosphere, is blocked in Kazakhstan since early October last year, and no official reasoning has been provided for that. Read the full story »
A billion of computers infected by the Conficker virus on April 1 could behave themselves unexpectedly. The first Conficker virus emerged on November last year. A second, more aggressive strain followed in December and a third this month. According to IT experts, the virus initially was programmed go deep to PC’s Windows operating system and steal users’ password and personal information including bank details. But, the latest version of Conficker has been programmed to instruct infected computers to do something on April 1, although internet experts have not been able to figure out what.
More that nine million computers have been infected last month. Once inside your PC the virus start downloading information from a controlling “boss” server. Then the virus networks infected computers and talks to each others updating and evolving.
A virus expert Mikko Hypponen said: “It is scary thinking about how much control a hacker could have over all these computers. They would have access to millions of machines.” He added: “We don’t know what they are planning to do, if anything.
Microsoft office offered $250,000 for information that leads to the capture the authors of Conficker virus.
Will see what happens on April 1 with Central Asian computers. In order to avoid infection I suggest you to download special update with antivirus from the Microsoft website.
The country was called an ‘enemy of the Internet’ in recently published survey done by Reporters Without Borders, and we present it to our readers:
Reporters Without Borders today issued a report entitled “Enemies of the Internet” in which it examines Internet censorship and other threats to online free expression in 22 countries.
“The 12 ‘Enemies of the Internet’ – Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam – have all transformed their Internet into an Intranet in order to prevent their population from accessing ‘undesirable’ online information,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“All these countries distinguish themselves not only by their ability to censor online news and information but also by their virtually systematic persecution of troublesome Internet users,” the press freedom organisation said. Reporters Without Borders has placed 10 other governments “under surveillance” for adopting worrying measures that could open the way to abuses. The organisation draws particular attention to Australia and South Korea, where recent measures may endanger online free expression.
“Not only is the Internet more and more controlled, but new forms of censorship are emerging based on the manipulation of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Orchestrating the posting of comments on popular websites or organising hacker attacks is also used by repressive regimes to scramble or jam online content.”
A total of 70 cyber-dissidents are currently detained because of what they posted online. China is the world’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents, followed by Vietnam and Iran.