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Industry of accusation: how do websites publishing compromising material work? Yuri Mosha Experience.

Industry of accusation: how do websites publishing compromising material work? Yuri Mosha Experience.
By Ignat Shestakov
Photo: Global Look Press/Monika Skolimowska
Fake news technologies are becoming more sophisticated, partly owing to the support of Hollywood. Furthermore, the simplest methods of disinformation are getting more and more efficient. Izvestia has figured out why the oldest heads of this monster can never be chopped off.
“The oldest heads” are the websites containing compromising material, which make money from customers wishing to ruin lives of their competitors, and from these competitors willing to pay to remove from the Internet publications about themselves having different degrees of reliability.
And we are not even talking about such veterans of information warfare like the site compromat.ru, that was created in 1999, blocked in 2017 although still perfectly working, but rather short-living web pages that get created as quickly as then become deleted. Their editorial staff sometimes publishes damaging information not even at the request, but simply to keep up with other teams.
Kompromat as a business
Entrepreneur Yuri Mosha had to deal with compromising materials published on the Internet several times. According to him, back in the early 2010s, such things were done by single websites, unrelated to one another. Some of them positioned themselves as official mass media having editorial staff and real legal addresses. “At that time, we could fight it. We contacted that sites and threatened them with filing court claims. In most cases, it helped, because they were afraid of responsibility”, Mosha told Izvestia.
A new wave of compromising material against the entrepreneur who makes money by helping those wishing to move to the United States from the former Soviet Union countries, emerged two years ago. He tried to make a deal with the sites or to make pressure on them through lawyers. But this time it was all pointless: “Now this is big business, and there are groups that have hundreds of websites with dummy registrations”.
Photo: Screenshot
Mosha contacted several owners of websites containing compromising materials by mail. Some of them were ready to delete publications for $ 7,000, others — for $ 20,000. Ordering publication of material damaging a competitor is cheaper — from $ 50,000 to $ 5,000. “You send an e-mail. They answer: “No problem, here’s a bitcoin wallet, transfer the money and I’ll delete the post.” At the same time each group attaches a list of their sites to an email,” the entrepreneur said. He did not pay anything.
Photo: Screenshot
I found a dark PR man, whom I paid at the end, however, not for removing materials, but for his advice. First advise was: you should not pay anyone. As soon as you pay, they will understand that you are ready to do it, and you will keep paying for the rest of your life. And even if they play fair and delete you from one site, they will post you on 50 others. He told me: “You see, we all know each other, and we are retyping all publications. As soon as information appears on one resource, the robot transfers it to others. And if a person pays [an owner of one website containing compromising material], he will start to pay everyone”.
His second hint was that suing them is useless. Because when there is a court decision, if Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) blocks it (only) on the territory of the Russian Federation, they will see that you are fighting with them, and will publish even more information about you.
Third, he said that the target must be not the sites, but Google and Yandex. As he said, they exist due to the support from Google and Yandex. Those two are just like salesmen in a gun shop who sell rifles to buyers who say they will shoot people in the street. They [search engines] do not fight against this [compromising material] at all. Before the lawsuit [with the search engines] I myself sent them information [about compromising material]. I attached a police clearance certificate, a residence permit, confirmation of citizenship. After that I had to go to court.
Now Yuri Mosha is negotiating a settlement with Yandex and is suing Google. Read about the difficulties faced by the entrepreneur and other people trying to remove information about themselves from the Internet (especially not from the Internet segment of one country) through court action here.
Making business on a kompromat business
In recent years, several companies have emerged in the Russian Internet segment that earn money by helping people remove information about themselves from search engines, social networks and mass media. They would not be able to make money if the laws on the right to be forgotten worked well.
Here it should be mentioned, that these laws in different forms exist in many countries. And Russia stays behind its neighbors, as there the law only entered into force in 2016. In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union adopted the decision according to which the users, in some cases, have the right to request the search engine to remove their personal data from the search results. And the preconditions for this right were already established in the Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force in 1953. In the United States, such cases typically cite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
So, it is difficult and time-consuming to seek a decision to get the data removed from search engines through courts. According to Yandex statistics, the company satisfied 27% of processed requests within three months from the date when the law on the right to be forgotten entered into force (that is, from January to March 2016). Google has more representative statistics, which, moreover, has been collected since 2014.
Photo: Depositphotos
That is why there are companies that resolve such issues avoiding judicial proceedings. They do not remove links to negative publications from search engines, but instead ensure that first pages of the search contain links to positive publications. They negotiate with social networks, contact websites and sometimes pay them.
The founder of one of such companies, Maxim Zlobin, told VC.RU that he first worked with company leaders, government officials and parliamentarians. But over time, he also started to work with individuals.
Maxim Zlobin, the ISN founder:
Once, a woman from Makhachkala contacted us. Hardly speaking Russian, she asked us to delete information about her sole proprietorship. At first, we could not understand why she needed this because search engines only showed records about the liquidation of the sole proprietorship. But then it appeared that her sole proprietorship had a code of the Russian National Classifier of Economic Activities (OKVED) referring to “Activities of massage parlors”. And although the woman did not provide any massage services to men (for religious reasons), if it became known to her relatives, she would be “forever covered with shame.” To remove this information, we partially used passages of the law on insulting the feelings of believers on the verge of the right to be forgotten.
Now half of Zlobin’s clients are businessmen, 30% are politicians, and 20% are public figures or individuals.
If you can’t delete it, take the lead
There are three methods the businessman uses in his work. The first one is negotiations, including offering money to web-platforms for removing negative publications. But, as noted by Yuri Mosha, this method is associated with high risks, including, first of all, the risk of the Streisand effect when the fact of an appeal may become a reason for new material. Second, there is a risk of getting into bondage when the payments to the web platform would become regular.
Prices for publication of the compromising material with which the founder of ISN works are lower than for those Mosha faced. Publishing information with a link to a foreign (containing the compromising information) site, costs €600–800. This allows the Russian kompromat-trash hole to avoid any responsibility for the publication. At the same time, deleting one publication costs from 5,000 to 600,000 rubles. That is, from $100 to about $ 10,000.
Photo: ТАСС/Ведомости/Максим Стулов
Therefore, the businessman considers the second method — work with search results — to be the most effective. Whitewashing articles about the client get posted and promoted in search engines. Thanks to this, the tarnishing publications move down to other pages of search results.
And the third way is a legal battle. When it comes to search engines, the right to be forgotten is used for this, but the common idea is that even if “there is some success in the court, in order to remove the information, you will have to go straight to the Constitutional Court”. Zlobin’s experts also use the law on personal data, which, in particular, states that no information about citizens of the Russian Federation can be stored and processed on the servers of foreign companies without the consent of these people. With social networks, according to Zlobin’s experience, it is often possible to reach an agreement provided that there is a reasonable proof that the compromising material is fabricated.
Kompromat on a business on a kompromat business
However, all this is useless, as Yuri Mosha noted with regret. Faced with the problem of kompromat, he contacted several companies of this kind. He did not mention ISN among those in his interview with Izvestia’s correspondent, however. And those he had contacted left him disappointed.
Yuri Mosha, an entrepreneur:
They cannot do anything. Some of them need a court decision. Others say, “We’re going to overlay [the negative content] with a positive one.” But I create such content myself, I have 5 thousand videos uploaded on YouTube, and it still doesn’t work.
All these companies are just scammers. They can’t do anything. I contacted one site [containing compromising material]. They said: half bitcoin [for deleting publications]. Then I contacted a company. They told me they would call back. They did call back and promised to solve the problem for one bitcoin.
Short-living website publishing compromising material of a different degree of truthfulness represent an ultimate expression of the fake news industry. Unlike the Hollywood-sponsored fake video technology, which (so far) takes resources and time, a site with catchy headlines can be created in several hours. And just as easily it can be removed from the Internet, as, for example, it happened with ostorozhno.ru.
The Site on Dangerous Connections, as was introduced by its authors, appeared in 2008. It published a standard set of material compromising politicians, including those of the Ural region, wrote URA.RU. Now the website link leads to a Riga travel guide with text stolen from a real travel site and ridiculous low-resolution photographs. It is quite obvious that when the money for the removal of the compromising material arrived, the creators simply covered it with a previously prepared dummy. And when a new order arrives, they will again remove it and continue to earn on lies.
Because it is so easy to create, remove, and reproduce such sites, they cannot be defeated. The University of Oxford recently published a report on the fight against fake news in various, primarily European, countries.
The term \"fake news\" addressed during the talk \"Between facts, fakes and manipulations - how do we defend democracy on the Internet?\" at the Ministry of Justice in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Global Look Press/dpa/Jörg Carstensen
The governments of all these countries do not make any attempts to counteract the sites posting compromising material. Because they just cannot. Most are trying to shift the responsibility onto social media. For example, in Germany, Facebook is threatened with a fine of up to €50 million if "obviously illegal" content is not removed within 24 hours. In some other countries, like Turkey or Bulgaria, according to the authors, the fight against fake news simply justifies the pressure on the opposition. And only two European countries, Sweden and Holland, came to an idea of teaching people to distinguish between rumors and the truth. Other countries, in contrast, just keep prohibiting things without obtaining any reasonable effect of this.
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Weekly news review (April 13-19)

Weekly news review (April 13-19)
Good day, everyone!
It's been a while so let's take a look at last week's news highlights!
https://preview.redd.it/lrzvu6lxwyt21.png?width=1200&format=png&auto=webp&s=5f858779e4fee01553344ca618fc60c7db1be7a1
Russia fines Facebook $47 over citizens' data privacy dispute
Russia has fined Facebook with 3,000 rubles, roughly $47, for not complying with the country's controversial Data Localization law. In December last year, Russian Internet watchdog Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies, and Mass Communications) sent notifications to Twitter and Facebook asking them to provide information about the location of servers that store the personal data of its citizens.
Russia is not the first country to enforce such law on foreign tech companies. In May 2016, Iran also imposed new regulations on all foreign messaging and social media apps to move 'data and activity' associated with Iranian citizens onto servers in Iran within one year. China also passed amendments for data localization in late 2016 that would force "critical information infrastructure operators" to store its citizens' data within the nation's borders.

Hackers compromise Microsoft employee to access Outlook email accounts
Microsoft has started notifying some Outlook.com users that a hacker was able to access accounts for months earlier this year. The software giant discovered that a support agent’s credentials were compromised for its webmail service, allowing unauthorized access to some accounts between January 1st and March 28th, 2019. It’s not clear how many users have been affected by the breach, or who was involved in obtaining access to Outlook.com email accounts. The hackers weren’t able to steal login details or other personal information, but out of caution, Microsoft is recommending that affected users reset their passwords.

Windows is slower after April 2019 updates according to users
Users are reporting that after installing the latest Microsoft updates, Windows has suddenly become slow and programs are taking forever to open. Apparently, there is a conflict between the latest Windows updates and Sophos, Avast, and Avira antivirus software that is causing Windows to freeze or updates to not finish installing. The issues that users are experiencing include Windows taking a long time to start or reboot, unable to start programs, lag in games, excessive disk activity, video streaming issues, and other similar problems.

Crypto markets report modest gains, gold sees slight losses
Tuesday, April 16 — cryptocurrency markets have registered moderate gains over the past 24 hours, with only Bitcoin SV (BSV) trading in the red among all top 20 coins by market capitalization.
In traditional markets, gold has dropped down by 1% last Tuesday marking its lowest price point this year. The slide is reportedly explained by increased demand for riskier assets like equities, with further reductions in bullion price caused by gains in the U.S. dollar.

Facebook stored millions of Instagram users' passwords in plaintext
Facebook late last month revealed that the social media company mistakenly stored passwords for "hundreds of millions" of Facebook users in plaintext, including "tens of thousands" passwords of its Instagram users as well. Last Thursday Facebook quietly updated its March press release, adding that the actual number of affected Instagram users were not in hundreds of thousands but millions. According to the updated post, Facebook discovered "additional logs of Instagram passwords" stored in a readable format, but added that its investigation revealed that the stored passwords were never "abused or improperly accessed" by any of its employees.

Have you been affected by any of the above? Let us know in the comments section down below!
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