Reporter's Notebook: Russians fear for privacy as hacking accusations swirl

The hacking scandal, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Russia, that led to the leak of a vast amount of material from the Democratic Party, is hardly the item of interest in Russia that it is in America -- but the Russians have their own fears, security and communications expert Andrei Soldatov said.


“They have mixed feelings,” he said of his countrymen. “On the one hand, there is a sense of national pride that Russia can do something with the US elections, and become, essentially, the third player, but on the other hand, they have concerns about their privacy.”

Soldatov says the street protests that followed President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were essentially swapping jobs were the catalyst.


Soldatov says, “It’s a direct consequence of the Moscow protests of 2011/2012. In 2012, the system of internet surveillance was expanded and it has expanded every year. More than one million Russian citizens were eavesdropped on over the last year. It’s a growing thing. It’s kind of a large scale offensive on internet freedoms.”

A controversial law, which also sought to help the security service track potential terrorists was enacted. It forces telecoms providers here to install software that will allow the FSB, the successor to the KGB, to access people’s data, often without providers knowing. The legislation also forces those companies to store data for a period of time.

Concern about this system hit a fever pitch during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when many spectators traveling from afar questioned the wisdom of switching on their devices at all. One member of the security community here counters that the NSA monitoring is more aggressive.

Meanwhile, Russia is coming under increasing attack from hackers. It fended off 70 million cyber attacks last year alone. There is a bill on the table to force all companies that are connected to what is deemed “critical infrastructure” to buy the means to protect themselves.

This, as a manager of Russia’s top cyber security firm — in fact one of the world’s top firms — Kaspersky Lab, was arrested, it was reported today, for treason.

It is not clear what he is in trouble for. Kaspersky says it has nothing to do with his work with them. But the employee, Ruslan Stoyanov, did work previously for the FSB.

The plot thickens.