If the hacker attacks that hit Russia’s top blogging service, LiveJournal, this week are anything to go by, the unwritten rules of cyber warfare no longer apply. Instead of the focused assaults hackers often used to force down the websites of their ideological enemies, these attacks look more like online carpet bombing. Their victim is not one voice but the entire cacophonous world of the Russian blogosphere. And the motive, as close as experts have been able to figure, is to erode the virtual infrastructure of free speech itself.
The scope of the attack on LiveJournal wasn’t clear when the first wave struck in the last week of March, sometimes slowing sites down to a crawl, other times knocking them offline altogether. At first the assault seemed narrowly political in nature, targeting the sites of just one anti-corruption crusader and blogger, Alexei Navalny, who has long been a thorn in the government’s side. Most famously, he once dubbed United Russia, the ruling party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, “the party of swindlers and thieves” — a moniker the party has since been frantically trying to shake.