Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Caucasus Site Hit by Denial of Service Attack Plans a Comeback

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 26 -- The Caucasus Times portal, which was taken offline on December 22 by a denial of service attack, is not only planning to restart its coverage of human rights violations and other developments in the region but also to take the Russian officials the site’s editors believe are responsible for trying to destroy it.
Initially, Islam Tekushev, the portal’s lead editor, said yesterday, those connected with the Prague-based site feared that the attack had destroyed virtually all of its files, thus making it difficult if not impossible to serve as a media outlet of record and to continue operations. But now, they believe that they will be able to recover 80 percent of them.
That will allow the Caucasus Times to resume operation soon, although today it is still off the air. But Tekushev said that he and his colleagues also hope to identify those behind the attack and bring them to justice either in the Russian Federation or, failing that, the Czech Republic ( text/news/id/1204462.html).
Tekushev said that he had been encouraged on both grounds by the Czech internet service provider. Officials there told him that while they could not hope to restore everything that had been posted on the site, they should be able to help him retrieve most items relatively soon.
The ISP also told him that the denial of service attack had lasted several hours, an unusually long time unless government agencies were involved. For his part, Tekushev indicated that he is sure that officials in the North Caucasus and particularly in Daghestan were behind what took place.
In the days before the attack last weekend, he said, Daghestani interior ministry officers had employed “very strong administrative measures” on the site’s correspondents, threatening them and Tekushev’s own relatives with violence unless the site changed its editorial policy or went off the air voluntarily.
Such threats are apparently an increasing feature of the media scene in the North Caucasus: Officials threatened the father of the owner of the site to force the latter to give up editorial control of that site earlier this month.
Apparently what infuriated regional officials in this case, Tekushev continued, was the coverage the site had given to public opinion surveys and participation rates in the December 2 Russian parliamentary elections, information that cast doubt on their claims and those of their superiors in Moscow.
“The population is very dissatisfied” with the conditions in which they have been forced to live, Tekushev said, and most people in the Northern Caucasus are extremely angry about what Moscow’s “force structures” -- the army, the interior ministry forces, and the FSB -- have been doing.
Given what he and his reporters have discovered and reported, the Caucasus Times editor said, there was no possibility as both regional and central officials have insisted that 90 percent or more of the electorate there had taken part in the voting or cast overwhelming majorities for President Vladimir Putin’s party of power, United Russia.
And consequently, he personally is already certain that they were responsible for trying to take him offline. Now, Tekushev said, he is “waiting for precise information from our provider about where the attack originated.” If it confirms his suspicions, then he will call on prosecutors to bring charges -- if not in Russia then at least in the Czech Republic.
But Tekushev faces an uphill battle legally. Officials in the Russian Federation are unlikely to be willing to allow him to bring a case -- indeed, given the threats against his family, it might be dangerous for him to do so -- and prosecutors in Prague will have a difficult time in linking the attack to specific individuals or institutions.
That is because denial of service attacks like the one Caucasus Times was subjected to are typically the product of the actions of people operating many computers, sometimes with their machines ganged together, but often working independently on the basis of an official tip that it would be good to target a particular site at a particular time.
Unless such an order is found or unless someone comes forward, then, it is difficult to bring someone to justice in most cases like this one. And consequently, this virtual battlefield will continue to heat up, with attackers becoming bolder and defenders more sophisticated, but with neither side able to win any final victory.

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