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'Cyxymu' Blogger Says Russia To Blame For Attack That Brought Down Twitter

The cyberattack crippled service to millions of users of Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal.
The cyberattack crippled service to millions of users of Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal.
TBILISI -- The Georgian blogger at the center of last week's cyberattack affecting hundreds of millions of global web users says Russian hackers are to blame for the attack, which came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war.

Giorgi Jakhaia, a 34-year-old economics lecturer living in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, said he had already been targeted in a number of smaller attacks for writing about the events leading up to the notorious five-day war.

He says the final attack came just before he was able to post an allegation on who was responsible for the start of the conflict. He believes the attack is the work of Russian intelligence services, saying he "can't believe" anyone else would be responsible.

"After the war I started to investigate the events," Jakhaia says. "During the week [before the August 6 attack], I had been publishing a chronology of what was happening before the war. I was going to make a post on the 7th of August explaining how the war really started -- who shot first. But then I was attacked."

Instant Notoriety

The strike on Jakhaia's blog evolved into one of the world's most widespread online attacks. The hackers, staging a DOS -- or denial of service -- attack, flooded key international servers with useless information.

The attack proved so virulent it affected services for millions of users on the Facebook and LiveJournal networking sites and shut down the Twitter microblogging service for several hours.

It brought instant notoriety to the blog, "Sukhumi, War and Pain," and its author, "Cyxymu" -- a Latinized imitation of the Cyrillic spelling of Sukhumi, the main city of breakaway Abkhazia, which is Jakhaia's native town.

Jakhaia, who revealed his identity nearly a week after the attack, spent his early years as an IDP following the civil war between Georgia and Abkhazia in the early 1990s. He launched his blog four years ago with the aim of connecting with other people displaced by the war.

But the style of "Sukhumi, War and Pain" took a dramatic shift last August, after hackers brought down Georgia's main government and media sites, leaving much of the chronicling of the war and its aftermath to bloggers like himself.

"If you remember, when the war started, Russian hackers blocked all of [Georgia's] government and information sites. People were desperate for information," he says. "So I tried to write what was happening in Georgia during the war. Even the 'Washington Post' mentioned me at the time. They wrote that I was the first to report that Russian forces had entered Sukhumi after the cease-fire agreement, and that this was a clear violation."

Who Did It?

Russia has been blamed for a series of high-profile cyberattacks, including that in Georgia during last year's war and a similar shutdown in Estonia in 2007, at the height of a diplomatic row between Moscow and Tallinn.

But while individual hackers have stepped forward to claim responsibility for aspects of some strikes, it remains unclear whether such cyberattacks come at the behest of the Kremlin or Russian intelligence services.

Nodar Davituri, a Tbilisi-based web developer and blogger, dismisses the notion that intelligence forces were involved in last week's attack.

"Conducting this type of attack doesn't require special forces, or a special mobilization of resources or the involvement of government structures," Davituri says. "A couple of angry hackers could have managed the whole thing. Also, I don't know why the attackers didn't think beforehand that bringing down these global sites would only bring [Cyxymu] more attention. I don't think the Russian secret service are so stupid that they wouldn't have considered that."

Another possible motivation for the hackers could have been the opportunity to humiliate Cyxymu out of existence by portraying him as responsible for the service disruptions.

Hackers' Motivation

Evgeny Morozov wrote about the case for his blog on the website of the respected U.S. journal "Foreign Policy." He says that while Jakhaia's case was rare in receiving international attention, bloggers are frequently targeted by hackers unhappy with their message and hoping to harass them to the point of giving up their blogs.

There are many other cases that are less visible than his that also attract cyberattacks and which are much less visible and less publicized," Morozov says. "Over a period of time they just ruin the bloggers' trust in blogging and online platforms, and makes it really hard for them to continue blogging, because the costs of doing that are so disproportionately high."

In Jakhaia's case, the hacker's motivation seems to have backfired. The Cyxymu attack has proved an unexpected publicity success.

A week before the attack, Cyxymu's Twitter page had about 40 followers. Now that number has jumped to more than 2,600. His LiveJournal page used to average 3,000 views a day. That number has now risen tenfold.

Jakhaia says he is planning a few changes to his blog in the wake of his newfound Internet fame -- most notably by adding a choice of languages for his growing international audience.

"I'll continue doing the same thing I was doing before. I'll post about Georgia, with photos of different regions of Georgia. I'll also write about Georgian songs, dances, and recipes -- I've always had that, and people like it," Jakhaia says.

"Now I'll have to start writing in different languages as well. I used to write only in Russian, because my audience was generally Russians and Ukrainians. But now I have a lot of foreign readers, as well, and I'll try to make my blog interesting for them, too."

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