February 08, 2023

Censorship, Hack Attacks, and Mass Emigration


Censorship, Hack Attacks, and Mass Emigration
A stylized, futuristic "RU," a symbol of the "Runet," or Russian internet. Wikimedia Commons, Dmitry Rozhkov.

The Russian project "Network Freedoms" released a report on internet freedom in Russia in 2022. According to the document, last year saw a record number of cases of interference with internet communications in Russia: over 637,000.

The cases were mainly related to prohibition of information and blocking websites and IP addresses. Over 190,000 websites were censored because they called for unauthorized demonstrations or because they spread socially significant information that was "unreliable," according to the Russian prosecutor's office.

Researchers recorded 779 cases of possible and real criminal prosecution for statements on the internet, posts, and reposts. According to the report, most cases stemmed from social media posts about the shelling of Ukrainian cities, the deaths of Ukrainian civilians, and losses among Russian servicemen.

Not surprisingly Russia led the world in the number of VPN application downloads. In the first half of 2022, 23.94 percent of the country's citizens downloaded VPNs (34.9 million in total).

The report also noted that hundreds of thousands of IT specialists and at least a thousand journalists left Russia in 2022. According to experts, this has laid the groundwork for the emergence of a “second Runet”: an alternative Russian language internet free from state censorship.

Experts of “Network Freedoms” also noted 371 cyber attacks on Russian websites, more than over the previous eight years combined. The portals of regional publications, as well as federal state information resources were among the victims. In particular, hackers attacked the Hermitage Museum's information displays, Pobeda Cinema's website, and several media outlets from the Amur Oblast.

Further, the hacking of government and corporate databases has become a front in the cyber warfare between Russia and Ukraine. At least 260 personal data leaks affected at least 75 percent of Russians: another anti-record for 2022.

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