Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Power Vertical

Podcast: Russia's Tangled Red Web

From Soviet censors to Internet filters: The more things change, the more things stay the same.
From Soviet censors to Internet filters: The more things change, the more things stay the same.
By Brian Whitmore

Information, and the ability to spread it, is power.

This is something the Soviet authorities understood when they stopped -- among other things -- mass production of photocopiers back in the 1950s.

And it is something that Vladimir Putin's Kremlin understands today with its efforts to control and police the Internet.

And it is also something understood, as well, by the samizdat-spreading Soviet dissidents of yore and the web-savvy Twitterized foes of Putin today.

The struggle over the control of information is the subject of an important new book, The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries by journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, I discuss the issues raised in the book with Soldatov, who is also co-founder of the investigative website, and with my co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows.


The Power Vertical Podcast: Russia's Tangled Red Web
The Power Vertical Podcast: Russia's Tangled Red Webi
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This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Tom
February 13, 2016 14:56
LoL @ 0:10:06

by: elmer
February 14, 2016 20:21
As usual, another very good podcast

But I'm a little surprised that there was not more discussion of the hackers, especially in view of the recent reports about cyberattacks on Ukraine's power grid which have been attributed to Kremlin hackers.

By the way - I don't really trust Kaspersky either.

Yep, the Kremlinoid trolls are easy to spot. I had never thought that, despite their lack of effect, they continue to be used because of the sovok mentality - "comrade, today we posted 400,000 messages." The 5-year plan, as you mentioned.

Quantity counts - but not quality or effect. "The operation was a success - but the patient died, and we don't care if the patient died."

It was not discussed, only mentioned, but I continue to be befuddled by the comments that Russian "feel betrayed" by the West. Makes no sense whatsoever.

by: mark fellows from: uk
February 14, 2016 22:21
It will be interesting to see how the regime deals with a real internal crisis vis a vis cyberspace. One can guide opinion in certain directions, but one cannot hide things like falling pensions or collapsing health care. Unless Putin can invent a credible threat from abroad, he may have little option but to do what Russian leaders have always done: crack down--and thus create a more extreme and implacable opposition.

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
February 16, 2016 04:48
We hear about cyber attacks and see such things in video but they have little potential when capable counter measures are implemented. An obvious way to defend power stations and traffic networks and such is to have those networks not connected to the Internet either physically or via routing.

Hacker's succeed only on the weaknesses of their target which can be fairly directly addressed.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
February 19, 2016 15:56
I just read an article in Wired that has a viewpoint aligned with Brian's in the podcast and thought I would expand on my prior, contrary remark.

An implied assumption in Wired and by the general public is that computers are black-boxes whose internals are unknown, except perhaps for hackers, and have to be chained and tamed much like a wild animal with mal-ware scanners and mountainous firewalls. However, if you need a secure computer the procedures are somewhat direct and can be easily researched on the web.

First of all, for the very large majority of you running Microsoft, which by commercial necessity is a black-box strategy designed for the external control required for easy user operation, your behinds are already history. Certainly the vast public stuck in this mire and watching hack-the-world videos will and should be apprehensive to some degree but this is not how secure operations are done.

A key aspect to critical security operations not being mentioned is that you only have on your computer and give access to it to the minimum for its purpose which for dedicated security operations can be quite small. Some people specialize at building minimal Linux systems as seen at If you need network access then you only have a very small number of ports open and know what the programs listening on those ports can do. Network access to a computer must go through those very few programs allowing access. And of course these access programs can do only very particular things in line with the security requirements.

You can inventory every file on your secure computer with hash signatures and periodically confirm that your computer is exactly as you expect it to be. This is similar to a virus scan but where any change for whatever reason is detected. If you find or suspect a problem you just rebuild the system with verified components, and rethink your access controls.

These are apparently not well-known aspects of secure operations for which many other factors need to be considered.

by: Democracy from: Earth
February 17, 2016 00:00
Just posted another comment challenging local putinobots in other discussion so when that part came in with Brian shaking his head (I imagine) I laughed long and hard.

But you know what, let's just ignore them from now on. Is that so hard to do? Plus is it really a censorship deleting same ol rant on 9/11 and zionist NWO?

Don't think so.

And thanks for the podcast guys.

by: hj from: Berlin
February 17, 2016 19:15
What a stuttering exercise this podcast has been. You guys love to talk too fast and often your tongue riddles and you can't find the words or repeat your syllables or foget to vocalize your words. Did you have some rounds o coffee before the program, or what? Very poor communication skills in this podcast. And one of the guests has spoken incredibly fast. Was he trying to show off his english skills?

by: Mamuka
February 28, 2016 19:17
For me the most interesting comment was the impact of what people "thought" or "assumed" was possible, that is, even though in reality only 300 phone calls could be monitored, everyone thought their call was being monitored and so they adjusted their behavior. So the state does not really have to posess all-powerful capability they just need to make people think that the state is all-powerful. In a society like Russia where the people have had to deal with some form of secret police since the time of Ivan IV, it does not take much for the state to have such an influence.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or