Cyber attacks against online news sites in Ukraine (2013-2014)

Disclaimer: In May 2014 in Boston I defended my master thesis about the role of social media in popular protests in Ukraine (2013-2014). Publishing excerpts of thesis, the following one – about cyber attacks.

The growing role of the Internet in serving up news for the audiences has a positive influence on maintaining media freedoms worldwide. The opponents of free speech respond with cyber attacks targeting news sites and social media. Ukraine is a case. In 2013-2014, Ukraine witnessed an increased number of cyber attacks against independent online media and media activists. According to an IMI report, 49 cyber attacks against journalists in Ukraine were made in 2013.

The attacks reflect a general pattern of silencing Internet voices during protests in many countries. The attempts to shut down the Internet were carried out during the uprisings in Iran in 2009, Egypt in 2011, and Syria in 2012. Even in Turkey, the country that aspires to join the EU, the government blocked Twitter and Facebook upon the rise of anti-government protests in March 2014.

During the protests in Ukraine in 2013-2014, unidentified hackers applied different strategies of cyber war. First of all, they attempted to crack users’ emails and files. For example, in October 2014, the computer of Oksana Romanyuk, the executive director of the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), was hacked, and the private email correspondence was leaked publicly.

Also, hackers targeted social networks and news sites through distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack as an attempt to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended user.

winter timeOn December 2, 2013, the site of Ukrainska Pravda was under a DDoS attack. It was the first identified attack against a news resource from the time the protests began on November 21, 2013.

On December 13, 2013, Cityband.com.ua, a resource that had published a map
of protests in Kyiv, was shut down. The notice on its front page said: “Our site is under DDoS attack. We had to close hosting. Sorry, friends. Instead we have created a more informative map on Yandex – Cityband Euromaidan.”

On December 14, 2013, journalists at Liga.net posted a message to their official page in Facebook: “We are currently under a very strong DDoS attack. Our technical team is fighting the night through.” The site http://www.yanukovich.info, that published findings on corruption schemes of President Yanukovych’s family, was shut down by DDoS attacks for a couple of days in the middle of December 2013.

Unknown hackers have likewise attacked other online news resources covering the Ukrainian protests – Glavcom.ua, Censor.net and RadioSvoboda.org.

In addition to cyber attacks, the work of journalists and independent online resources was challenged by unidentified journalists who launched fake sites, which echoed popular news sites. In particular, Ukrainska Pravda discovered two copycat sites, launched in summer 2013. The first, Ukrainska Kryvda, stole the design of Ukrainska Pravda and published biased anti-opposition articles.

By launching Ukrainska Kryvda, initiators violated copyright laws, registered their site in Russia and located their hosting in Australia, having protected the identity of the people behind the site.

The second site stole the brand “Ukrainska Pravda” and registered domain name similar to pravda.com.ua – ukrpravda.ua. Both fake sites demonstrated that the methods to combat independent journalism in Ukraine had become more sophisticated. As of March 2014 both fake sites have been deactivated after months of their activity.

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Careful examination of the power of social media in Ukraine during #euromaidan

A team of authors within Carnegie Corporation research project has recently published a report “Protest in the Age of Social Media.” The authors (Joshua A. Tucker, Megan Metzger, Duncan Penfold-Brown, Richard Bonneau, John Jost, Jonathan Nagler) analyze how Ukrainian opposition leaders and, more noticeably, civic activists used social media to reach audiences and bring the Yanukovych regime down. The authors are looking for implications of social media impact:

If social media is indeed changing the ways in which protests emerge and evolve, then what is learned about the Ukrainian situation will provide important lessons for understanding and anticipating political developments all over the world.

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The authors suggest to view the impact of social media in Ukraine in three main dimensions, focusing on the use of #euromaidan / #євромайдан hashtags and Facebook updates:

First, social media can help to build a protest movement, and it can do so with remarkable speed. Second, once a movement exists, social media can play an important role in recruiting new members and encouraging participation. Third, once protests are in full swing, social media can spread information about them.

The interest of researchers for the impact of social media use in Ukraine in 2013-2014 remains high and leads to new publications from worldwide aiming to undestand the nature of social media interaction as a vibrant medium of public discussions and self-organization. Just to remind, in Boston, in May 2014, I have published my thesis about the role of social media in news gethering in Ukraine.

Agenda setting in newsgathering during anti-government protests 2013-2014 in Ukraine. Segment 1 of my thesis

Introduction (pp.8-9)

Alongside the work of professional journalists, the events in Ukraine showed a huge involvement of Internet users and media activists in reporting on the developments in the protests and the conflict with Russia. With the help of modern technologies, such as Twitter, Facebook, Ustream and YouTube, users provided evidence, shared impressions, helped in news gathering and distribution, coordinated efforts, and mobilized supporters for these causes. Social media became a hub for hundreds of grassroots initiatives that mobilized hundreds of thousands of active citizens across Ukraine and worldwide, interested in the Ukrainian events. The scale of such media activism could not be ignored by professional news organizations, and step-by-step they were accepting social media as a source in newsgathering.

The rise of social media use regarding the events in Ukraine showed remarkable numbers. Twitter,  an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read short, 140-character text messages called “tweets”, was the fastest way to learn news about the recent events in Ukraine.  In the period of February 10-March 12, 2014, 3,785,648 tweets with the hashtag #ukraine were written by users of Twitter. With the outbreak of the Crimean crisis, the interest in Ukraine on Twitter was comparable to the interest in the 86th Academy Awards ceremony.  Continue reading

Framing protests in Ukraine – viral video “I am Ukrainian”

Yulia Marushevska, a student from Kyiv, who participated in anti-governmental protests in Ukraine, became famous in the West due to the one video, posted in YouTube. Marushevka appeals to the world, explaining why Ukrainians were fighting against government. The video came viral – it got 7,990,000 views as far as April 5, 2014. Now Yulia is on tour in Canada and the States. She was invited by TV channels, city councils, think tanks and universities to talk about Ukraine and the protests. On April 8, Yulia gives a presentation at Stanford University. On April 13-15 she is visiting Boston.

The effects of viral video “I am Ukrainian” appeals ideally to the Western audience since it demonstrates personalization of the protests in Ukraine.  Yulia stands as an ideal hero – she is a protester, she is young and passionate, she speaks simply and sincerely and  the language she talks is English. She is a direct victim of the drama, also her family members participated in protests. She symbolizes a new generation of Ukrainians – she is English-speaking, devoted to the civic values and is in the list of young professionals.

At the same time, some authors mention the controversy of the video.. Yulia as a hero is too perfect to be real. Her message shows the developments in Ukraine in black and white, silencing the violence from protesters.

A discussion at Stanford University

A discussion at Stanford University

Another video, filmed by Ben Moses, posted by a user “Yulia Marushevska”, dated Dec 06, 2013, explains more about the protests in Ukraine. The caption states:

Finding myself in the epicenter of the protests – often referred to here as a revolution – I decided to interview some of the people in the streets. There is one factual error: the heavy outpouring of people into the streets occurred over several days after the beatings, not immediately the next day.

Discussions on viral video with Yulia Marushevska:

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-26272546

http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/i-am-a-ukrainian-video-goes-viral-in-bid-to-shine-light-on-protests-1.1695425

http://video.dailyheraldtribune.com/search/all/source/calgary-sun/i-am-ukrainian-star-yulia-marushevska-on-sun-news/3414241159001

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Yanukovych and his allies organized a provocation trap for protesters – Orobets

Lesya Orobets,  Ukrainian MP, described Yanukovych’s dirty game towards protesters on Feb 18, 2014. Bellow the full text:

All the so-called peaceful negotiations were a well-planned trap. They were aimed to delay time and to prepare power operations against protesters. Yanukovych did not plan to make any concessions from the beginning. All those ‘dances’ around the political process, backroom negotiations on amendments to the Constitution – were intended only to lure protesters in trap.

Today’s day was a well-planned and directed by at least a week ago. Right now Kyiv subway doesn’t work, and all entrances to Kyiv are locked. In Kyiv, at least in some places (for example, hostel KPI) the internet is off. A state of emergency will be imposed in Kyiv in a few hours and do not tell me that all this was done without any preparation, plan and investigation. Continue reading

Ukraine in blood: police killing dozens of protesters

Tuesday, Feb 18, 2014 was the darkest day in the history of Ukrainian independence – at least 18 protestors killed, more than 1000 wounded during the clashes in Kyiv.

Clashes started in the morning, when pro-government parties refused to adopt a a legislation to limit the President’s power. Protestors moved in the direction of Parliament. Since then police started shooting at protestors. Photos of police with AK47 Kalashnikov fire arms were taken by journalists on Instytutska St. The hardest fight took place on Instytutska – two people, including a 60-year old woman, where shot. Their bodies were located in front of Khreshtatyk metro stations.

Father and son today in Mariyinskyi Park in the morning after clashes with police and thugs, called titushki. Both are lecturers in the largest technical university of Ukraine. Their last name stands for Kuznetsov.

tutors

The government announced anti-terrorist operation in Kyiv against 30 000 protestors. Police attacked Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  Metro was closed since the afternoon. Thousands of people could not reach their destinations. Also thousands of Kyiv residents assisted wounded in hospitals. A protestor died on the hands of my online friend in Kyiv hospital #17 – he was shot in head and stomach – link to my friend reporting on it.

The President of Ukraine refused to stop violence – he demanded every protestor to leave Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Police continued to attack protestors. As my friend Yevgen Truhin wrote: “Riot policeman is paid 600 USD per month. For 600 $ he destroys and kill people to protect the regime, crazy. Is it worth?”

flame Dec 18

Media attention in social media worldwide switched from Olympic games to events in Ukraine:

ukrainesochi

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Интернет и эмоциональная журналистика времен Евромайдана

lights

Киев, 15 декабря 2013. Автор фото неизвестен

15 декабря 2013 года 200-тысячный Майдан Независимости засветился десятками тысяч мобильных телефонов и фонариков. Люди держали телефоны и фонарики высоко на головами, исполняя хором гимн Украины. В тот же день участники пели хором на пару со Святославом Вакарчуком, лидером “Океана Эльзы”, чей концерт был посвящен демонстрантам, избитых спецотрядами милиции 30 ноября. Светящийся Майдан на несколько минут преобразился в манифест нового общества – людей, подключенных к Интернету и мало зависимых от пропаганды подконтрольных правительству телеканалов.

За три года правления Януковича власть прозевала технологический сдвиг в обществе – Интернет стал ключевым источником информации для представителей образованного класса, включая журналистов, гражданских активистов, бизнесменов, служащих, студентов. Именно они были среди первых 1500 киевлян, которые вышли протестовать против правительства на Майдан Независимости поздно вечером 21 ноября.

Уже несколько лет Интернет, ставший главным общественным форумом страны, является одним из главных фактором давления на политический режим в Украине. Заметную роль в этом процессе играют и журналисты. В условиях правительственного контроля над многими СМИ, сбалансированное информирование о действиях власти от Интернет-СМИ – само по себе является ударом по легитимности правительства и Президента.

Однако роль украинских журналистов не ограничивается только информированием о событиях в стране, как это следовало бы ожидать в любой демократической стране. Имея довольно высокий запас доверия в обществе и понимая потенциал соцмедиа и Интернета, часть журналистов видят себе также и в роли гражданских активистов. В условиях зачистки свободной украинской журналистики времен Януковича, этот активизм выглядит вынужденным шагом со стороны медийщиков. Более того, часть сообщества украинских журналистов видит себя не только последним бастионом свободы слова в стране, но и свободы общества в целом. Перефразируя слова Евгения Евтушенка о том, что “поэт в России — больше, чем поэт”, в Украине журналист – чуть больше, чем журналист.

События Евромайдана, ставшего крупнейшим протестом в истории независимой Украины, возможно бы не состоялись без участия журналистов. Ведь именно со стороны журналистов в соцсетях прозвучала идея собраться поздно вечером 21 ноября на Майдане Независимости с целью высказать протест против отказа Украины от евроинтеграции. Несколько дней спустя, 1 декабря, без выложенных в YouTube роликов, весь мир возможно бы и не узнал правду о жестокости спецотрядов милиции во время разгона студентов на Майдане в ночь на 30 ноября. И возможно не узнал бы и об избиении около 40 журналистов возле Администрации Президента вечером 1 декабря.

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Киев, 7 декабря 2013. Автор фото: Олег Мацех

Как же развивались события в первые дни протеста и какова в них роль журналистов? Continue reading