Russian TVs, Search Engines Hacked On Victory Day With Anti-War Message

Placeholder while article actions are loading

RIGA, Latvia — Russians using smart TVs reported seeing something atypical: a message appeared instead of the usual channels. “The blood of thousands of Ukrainians and hundreds of murdered children is on your hands,” read the message that took over their screens. “TV and the authorities are lying. No to war.”

The apparent hack, targeting ordinary Russians sitting by their TVs or looking up things on their search engines, broke through pro-Moscow posts as Russia celebrates Victory Day, a commemoration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazis. Germany in World War II.

As Russia ramped up its attacks in southern and eastern Ukraine, thousands of Russian troops gathered in Moscow’s Red Square for a military parade. Addressing them, President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech doubling down on his invasion of Ukraine and blaming NATO and Western countries with no evidence for provoking Russia.

On Victory Day, Putin defends war on Ukraine as fight against ‘Nazis’

The anti-war message that appeared on the screens of Russian smart TV users also appeared on the platforms of Yandex, the Russian IT giant. Like Google, it combines many products under its umbrella, including a search engine and a service that provides TV schedules. On that page, the daily programs of state-run Channel One and Russia 1 were also blacked out early Monday.

YouTube’s Russian equivalent, called RuTube, was also affected, it said in a statement.

“After the sites of several Russian ministries, which have been constantly exposed to cyber-attacks for the past two months, hackers have reached RUTUBE,” RuTube said on its official Telegram channel. “Our video hosting has undergone a powerful cyber attack. At the moment it is not possible to access the platform.”

The streaming platform later said it had “located the incident” and was working to restore normal service, and that the alleged hackers were unable to access the content library.

“Specialists have located the incident and security is currently underway,” RuTube said. “We will announce the timing of the video service restoration in the near future.”

“RUTUBE confirms that third parties have not been given access to the video archive,” it said. “The entire library, including user content, is still stored on the service.”

Russian government websites and state-run media have faced what the government has called an “unprecedented” wave of hacking attacks since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. In mid-March, Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development and Communications said the attacks were at least twice as powerful as all previous attacks, prompting the agency to take unspecified measures to protect the services.

Russian government websites face ‘unprecedented’ wave of hacking attacks, ministry says

Some Russians also seem to be taking digital action themselves, even within their own country.

Articles with headlines condemning the invasion appeared on the front page of the Russian news website Lenta.ru early Monday.

Each article published by Lenta contained a disclaimer that the material was “not agreed with the editorial board” and that “the presidential administration will penalize the publication for publishing it.”

“In other words,” it said, “take a screenshot of this now before it gets deleted.”

The stories — with powerful headlines like “Vladimir Putin has turned into a pathetic and paranoid dictator” and “Russia is abandoning the corpses of their soldiers in Ukraine” — were removed shortly afterwards.

Such statements would most likely be banned in Russia under a law passed this year that prohibits any attempt to discredit Russian troops and their actions in Ukraine. Free speech proponents say the law is a way for the Russian government to control the narrative surrounding the war. For example, it forbids anyone to use the word “invasion” to describe events in Ukraine — what Putin calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” the country.

In Putin’s Russia, ‘fake news’ now means real news

Yegor Polyakov, an editor at Lenta, claimed joint responsibility for the anti-war material, saying he and his colleague Alexandra Miroshnikova had made a “conscious decision” to oppose the war.

“This is not a ‘hacker hack’ at all; this is our conscious decision, which was made a relatively long time ago, but it was not possible to implement it quickly (I won’t say for what reasons yet),” he said in a statement to Russian outlet Mediazona.

Polyakov said there are almost no independent media in Russia, and he called on “potential critics . . . not to forget humanism” and said they “shouldn’t label everyone at once”.

He said he and Miroshnikova “no longer work at Lenta”.

Leave a Comment