On the morning of May 9, 2012, unknown parties launched a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on the live feed website Ustream.tv. According to Victoria Levy of Ustream.tv, the attack took place from thousands of unique IPs, based in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Iran. It was centered on one particular user, reggamortis1 [ru], who for the past four days has been covering opposition rallies and protests in Moscow.
Although Ustream.tv began operating normally after ten hours of downtime, the reggamortis1 channel remained inaccessible for several more hours. CEO Brad Hunstable said in an interview with Global Voices that this was the most serious DDoS attack on the website ever.
Ustream.tv makes it very easy to run live-streaming broadcasts from smart-phones, making it an invaluable resource for bloggers around the world. It reaches 55 million people monthly, and a staggering 125 hours of content are uploaded to the site per minute. Ustream’s mission, says Mr. Hunstable, is to provide a platform for people to share stories and build communities.
True to this mission, Russian citizen journalists like Kirill Mikhailov, aka reggamortis1, who also tweets at @reggaemortis1 [ru] and blogs at reggae-mortis.livejournal.com [ru], have been utilizing the service to report on recent Russian protests in lieu of coverage by official Russian television networks.
One such live broadcast, by user vova-moskva [ru], gained traction through Twitter on March 5. It covered the situation on Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow during the rally against Vladimir Putin’s reelection.
Mikhailov blogged about the need for such action [ru] on February 29:
From every square we will need to maintain constant coverage and concentrate it in one place. But that’s for the future.
At this point Mikhailov was slightly behind the times. The Ustream.tv channel of Ridus, a Russian citizen journalism platform, has been posting live feeds of protests starting last December, and has since collected well over two million live views.
This type of guerilla reporting is in line with the general trend of internet-based news coverage in Russia. For example, tvrain.ru [ru] is a liberal-leaning online television channel that often interviews opposition leaders and hosts them on its talk shows. It recently provided a platform [ru] for new opposition darling Ksenia Sobchak after her political debate show had been forced out from mainstream television.
On the other side of the barricades, MinaevLive [ru] is a live-streaming “internet-show” run by Sergei Minaev, a Russian writer and blogger with reputed ties to the Kremlin. His from-the-rooftops YouTube coverage of the May 6 March of the Millions was a four-hour bird’s eye view of the conflict and its development. (A compressed and sped-up 4-minute YouTube version is located here.)
The current DDoS attack on Ustream.tv is consistent with other attacks on Russian opposition websites and social networks. RuNet Echo has previously covered DDoS attacks against Russian opposition media and blogs during the Russian parliamentary elections last December. Ridus’ Ustream.tv channel was likewise DDoS’d on December 6 and January 6.
Attacks on online media were most recently repeated during the March of the Millions. “The tvrain.ru website isn’t working, and so are the sites of Slon [slon.ru] and Echo Moskvy [echo.msk.ru],” tweeted @tvrain [ru] on May 6.
On the same day, General Director of Kommersant, Demian Kudriavtsev, warned on his Facebook [ru] that the daily newspaper’s website was under a DDoS attack. Echo’s Varfolomeev gave the same reason [ru] for his site’s erratic behavior.
Perhaps because of this Mikhailov, an opposition activist from Ufa [ru] who charmingly calls himself “Navalny’s battle-hamster,” doesn’t put all of his eggs in one basket. Although he has been using Ustream.tv since April 15 [ru], during the May 9 attack on his channel he switched to a Bambuser.com account (Bambuser is a streaming service similar to Ustream) to continue his coverage. On his blog he also lists the Ustream channel of his colleague, romanpomych, whose stream was up while Mikhailov’s was down.
Before his current project, Mikhailov had been covering the Astrakhan hunger strike (Global Voices coverage is here and here), in which he participated as one of the strikers. Incredibly, he is conducting another hunger strike [ru] at the moment, even as he is running around Moscow and reporting. Amidst all of this activity, Mikhailov has found time to write an email [ru] to Ustream.tv, in which he implicates the Russian government and the youth group Nashi in the attacks:
[...] Russia actively tracks the current events thanks to your website. This is the only source of communication, thanks to which we will find out how Putin is killing our citizens. [...] Your site currently doesn’t work only because of these bastards – kremlin.ru and nashi.su. These people, under Putin’s orders, rob the people of information and are trying to hide the mayhem happening in the capital of Russia and are conducting a DDoS attack against ustream.tv.
Brad Hunstable also finds the attack very disturbing. To him, someone is trying to take away the right of global citizens to speak and be heard, in essence subverting his company’s mission. Currently, Ustream.tv is debating the best response to the situation. In the meantime, and in a gesture of defiance, they have added a Russian-language option to the website: