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Russian: Anti-Kremlin websites suffer hacker attacks
By Charles Clover and Courtney Weaver in Moscow

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A number of news websites often critical of the Kremlin were silenced by hackers as voting got under way on Sunday in Russia’s parliamentary elections with pollsters predicting that United Russia, the ruling party, could struggle to retain its majority.
At least a half a dozen sites reported massive distributed denial of service or DDOS attacks, which have knocked them off the air, and which have become a trademark of government backed hackers working to hamper the spread of information on electoral violation by the embattled party of power, United

The website of Golos, an independent election monitoring organisation was down. Golos has faced massive official harassment in the lest few days, including a court fine and the detention of its director whose laptop was confiscated by customs at Sheremetevo airport on Saturday. Golos is partly funded by USAID and European countries, and was the target of a propagandistic attack by state TV channel NTV on Friday, alleging the organisation takes its orders from western intelligence services whose goal is to disrupt Russian elections.

The attacks came amid allegations of violations almost exclusively on the part of United Russia, which according to polls will struggle to achieve a majority in the election.

At a polling station in the centre of Moscow, an enclave known for being more liberal than the rest of the country, a few voters said they would vote for United Russia, but others said they had grown sick of the ruling party.

"The elections come and [United Russia] says everything will get better and then everything goes back to the way it was,” said Vyacheslav Chuvalyev, referring to the party’s campaign messages and pre-election social spending.

Andrei Khrenov, a film critic, said he was angered by the media blackout that had taken place. "The power is trying to do everything they can do to suppress but still the Russian electorate doesn’t see many people it can trust.”

Golos has, in co-operation with others created a ‘Map of Electorial Violations’ [kartanarusheniy.ru] which is intended to collect evidence of violations, though this website and those websites that have linked to it have come under sustained DDOS attack on Sunday.

Other sites which continued to hang the banner linking to this map, such as the website of Ekho Moskvy, a politically neutral radio station which gives airtime to opposition groups, was also down due to DDOS attack since early in the morning.

The Twitter account of Snob.ru, a high end Moscow magazine, confirmed that the DDOS attacks, measuring roughly 50,000 hits a second, have hit every website which hangs the Golos "map of violations” link.

While Russia’s internet is largely uncensored, the scale of the attacks calls into question how free of political interference the internet really is. Nashi, a Kremlin backed youth group, is known to run a special "directorate” of cyberwarfare specialists which have chalked up a number of impressive cyber attacks, including the attack on Estonia in 2007, which knocked out a number of official and commercial websites for days. All that is required, according to hackers is a few dozen like minded activists to run the same tools on their computers, which enlist zombie computers and deluge websites with traffic that they cannot cope with, taking them out of action.

Slon.ru, a Kremlin-owned, Russian news service radio station, opposition weekly New Times, and Livejournal, a blogging website which has carried many reports on falsification, also appeared to be down due to DDOS attacks.

Anti-Kremlin activists had to rely mainly on Twitter and Facebook, which have far greater server capacity and thus able to withstand attack, to update their followers.

Ekho Moskvy, a Moscow radio station which is majority-owned by Gazprom, the state-owned oil and gas group, but has a more independent editorial line, reported on 30 students in the Moscow suburb of Strgino being paid 4000 roubles to participate in a "karousel” in which they get on a bus and vote at several different precincts throughout the day. Activists set up a website to publicise the phenomenon, antikarusel.ru.

Meanwhile, Golos tweeted a video of a woman who identifies herself as a Nashi activist buying absentee ballots for 500 rouble apiece in Novgorod.

And in Perm, a city in the eastern part of Russia, Golos linked to a video showing the local voting precinct had already signed the voting protocols, recording final totals, before the voting had even begun on Sunday.

The violations, almost exclusively on the side of United Russia party, appeared to show the measures the party is prepared to take to cling to power. According to polls, it will struggle to get even a majority on Sunday versus a two-thirds majority in the last 2007 elections.

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