Beware. Russia and your game console

Russia has blown it. With massive wealth from oil and gas, a well educated population and a fledgling democracy they could have done great things to become a modern, wealthy, vibrant society. Instead we have a highly corrupt Putin dictatorship with a small “robber baron” elite who are immensely wealthy whilst the bulk of the population suffer in grueling poverty with a low life expectancy. The KGB control the government, the press, the military and the business community. Putin has absolute power.

Now Russia has imperial ambitions and has its eye on the 14 neighbour countries that were once in the Soviet Union. And they are cutting off gas supplies and sending in the tanks to project their power and influence. At the same time, and this is potentially even more serious, they now engage in cyber war with anyone who annoys them. Attacking the computers and interweb of a country in a massive and coordinated way that makes much normal functioning become impossible.

The first time this happened was in Estonia in 2007. The government there was taking down an old soviet era statue and the Russians didn’t like this. So they tried to grind Estonia to a halt in a massive month long cyber war. This was the first time that one country has attacked another in cyberspace.

The second time was a year later, in 2008 when Russia wanted to impose its will on Georgia. They instigated a massive co-ordinated online attack of the Georgian internet infrastructure (as well as sending in the tanks). Once again using cyberspace as a weapon against someone they didn’t like. The New York Times article on the Georgia cyberwar has this quote from an expert: “You could fund an entire cyberwarfare campaign for the cost of replacing a tank tread, so you would be foolish not to.”

So twice in two years Russia has gone to cyber war to exert its power. From this we can take it that abusing the internet in this way is Russian policy. Which means that they are preparing to use the internet and computers against other people in future, just as they would with any other weapon. So every piece of software coming out of Russia must be suspect, and that includes games. In fact games are the most suspect because they are the most widely distributed and they are so physically big that it is easy to embed malicious bots that could be activated the next time Russia has a cyber war. And these days gaming consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 are connected to the internet so could just as easily be used as internet weapons.

It is a pity that Putin is so stupid. At a time when he could and should be making life better for the millions of Russians he represents he is, instead, making things worse for them (and the population of neighbouring countries) with his megalomania.


  1. Russia has been a pretty dehumanised place for years, with corporate warfare in the streets, and people I know who’ve lived there telling me “The population is basically unnecessary to the government now”. Foreign businesses are targets for large scale theft too. The only thing that would shrink the petrocracy would be a mass switch to decentralised green power sources.

    The idea that software exports might be suspect is an interesting one, but I wonder if the market for Russian games even comes close to the size of a botnet like Storm.

    John Robb has a pretty good intro the the current state of cyber war here:

  2. I think somewhere in Moscow right now the name “Bruce Everiss” is being scrawled onto a KGB ‘hit’ list.

  3. “Throw away your television” (c) RHCP

    Bruce, with all due respect, have you ever been in Russia? I bet you haven`t.
    It is understandable, if your opinion on us is based on what you see on CNN and read in Times. Still, in reality everything is not that simple. You see, and want to see, only a half of the truth (the most unpleasant one, i admit – there’s no denying quite a lot of things went wrong here).
    From the looks of it, you just use gaming context in an centuries-old “kick Russia competition”. I wouldn’t call that “professional”. Do you seriously believe that code, outsourced to Russia, written on Japanese and American dev-tools, can contain some trojan that can be switched on from Kremlin? Give me a break. As to “coordinated” cyber-attacks – they don’t come from Kremlin and FSB. Worse, most of them come from ordinary hackers, who try to express their “patriotic” feelings this way. This is really a problem. The most logical solution? Be friendly. Don’t participate in “kick the bear” contest. Write something positive about us – contrary to what Miliband tells you, there is quite a lot. And throw away your television.

  4. Here’s an ordinary Russian point of view for you: I laughed my a** off reading this article. It’s so wrong in every single word that i don’t even know where to start. There’s no dictatorship, the only empire on Earth right now is called the US of A, Russia’s population is wealthier than it ever were in the 20th century, there is no KGB (for 15 years, yeah), ‘cyberwar’ is a doing of local hackers-patriots not Putin (and our president is Medvedev) and i’ve yet to see how anyone can do anything real via a ‘cyberwar’. Oh, and since all of game consoles are a product of USA and their NATO ‘friends’ it’s way more possible that YOU will use them in ‘cyberwar’ against Russia.
    The only war that’s happening today is the information war — there are no truth in you TVs, magazines, newspaper, websites, you are being brainwashed by your governments so you’ll support another Iraq or Afganistan or Kosovo or Veitnam or whatever when THEY decide to go get some oil again. That’s the truth — your goverments wants Russian oil and gas for free. And they won’t stop until they get them — or will be stopped by missiles and bombers on Cuba.
    Anyone saying that Russia wants to restore USSR or old empire just plain don’t know what he’s talking about. Russians are the ones who lost the most to these empires and we certainly don’t want to repeat that history. You have to be Russian, to live here to understand that unfortunately.
    Best regards from Moscow. Don’t be a sheep and don’t trust blindly everything you hear about Russia from your governments.

  5. Dear Bruce,
    thank you for your thoughts on this site. I won’t say that I agree with you on your articles here. That’s wouldn’t be true. But it’s YOUR opinion on various subjects, and you are free to think what you want especially when you’re good at the subject. But this time I can’t keep silent. Because I’m Russian and because this time you know NOTHING about the situation. And it’s a pity when people consider their ignorance to be knowledge and trusted information. You’re talking about cyberwar… well I’d call it a “media war” because every single piece of information you receive is censored and has nothing to do with reality. Moreover, I believe you are not much interested in truth and what’s going on here in Russia or in Georgia, which, I’m sure, you can’t even pinpoint on the map. You’re writing about “KGB control the government”. Great. KGB has ended its existence back in 1991. Then you’re saying “putin dictatorship”, “Putin has absolute power”. Do you know that he is no president anymore? Do you know that we’ve selected another president? You can look it up in your “trusted sources”. Maybe they’ve written a couple of lines about it. Well, of cause Putin hasn’t distinguished after that, he is still a very influential man in the country. Thogh we are not talking about him, but Russian hackers, who commited numerous attacks on foreign servers. That’s true. But have you ever asked why? In Estonia for example. “The government there was taking down an old soviet era statue” you say. But what statue? I’ll tell you: it had nothing to do with soviet government nor policy. It was monument to a liberator of Tallin from nazi’s occupation. There was also a common grave there. A common grave of OUR ancestors. And they all were elicited from there with barbarous carelessness. Our casualties in WW II were around 25 million people. Imagine this! In today’s Russia there is no family which haven’t lost a member during the war. That’s why we felt pain when Estonian government did this. And our government couldn’t do anything because it would have been an invasion. Many Estonians were against committing that crime except for the government. That’s why our hacker’s did this… I’m not asking you to justify them. I’m asking you to understand them and all our people. And, please, don’t even think that those “hackers” were working on the government. They were ordinary people with some knowledge about computers. In life many of them are sysops, programmer, computer club administrators and so on and so forth.
    “They instigated a massive co-ordinated online attack of the Georgian internet infrastructure (as well as sending in the tanks)”
    Heh… tanks… My dear friend, try watching further than your nose, and further that 15 seconds news lines on official British and American channels. Your own media sources are making fools of you. Are you happy to be fools?
    You know, after that video I don’t believe, that there is freedom of media anywhere in the world. But thanks God we’ve got the Internet. Check this one-year-old Russian program out And keep in mind the fact that back in 1919 there was another genocide in Ossetia by Georgians. Remember that Georgian church had forbidden to kill Georgians. If somebody does his name will be written in a special book and disgraced (while physically he will executed of casue). For God’s sake open your eyes, watch youtube, googletranslate Russian sites such as or If you want, there’s a Ukrainian one (um… I would compare our relations with them with yours lovely relations with Scottish or Irish)
    In the end it’s pretty simple Russian people (including hackers) don’t want to be accused in something that we didn’t do and we don’t want our friends to be killed by modern Nazis who calls himself “democratic leader”. And we do what we can to unveil the truth to the world.
    I’m really sorry for being rude. But it hurts when somebody calls you a traitor, aggressor etc. And sorry for grammar.
    P.S. “So every piece of software coming out of Russia must be suspect, and that includes games.” Lol, how many Russian games do you know? Which Russian games of the your list you played? Tetris? Come on this is ridiculous.

  6. So just out of curiosity, how is a console title, which runs occasionally in a sandboxed hardware environment, supposed to be used as an ‘internet weapon’?

    PC games, could feasibly include trojans which run in the background and participate in a bot-net. But console games? They’re strictly limited in how and when they can be running on the console hardware, and they have very little opportunity to infect other systems to get the kind of mass-system effect needed to cause noticeable issues.

    Unless the tactic is to get people hooked on an addictive game, then just when you’re about to launch your first attacks, make the game stop working. Thus ensuring that your enemies are busy ranting on internet forums and don’t see the tanks on their doorstep until it’s too late.

  7. Andrei.
    Not only have I been to Russia, I have also travelled extensively there. In fact I have visited 6 former Soviet Union countries, some repeatedly.
    And my wife is Russian.

    Not only that I have access to a free press, whereas most Russians are just fed state propaganda. And, looking at your post, believing it.

  8. In some way it is somewhat scary to see how “cyberwarfare”, whether it’s about organised or just random patriotic attacks from Russia or China or whatever nation, folds out but on the other hand I am not gonna give up excellent games from GSC, Akella or Nival because they ‘might’ ship with something malicious.

    The thought alone that these companies, who have a proven track record of games (usually published by Western companies) which should often receive more love than most Western titles, could be forced to ship their games with a sleeping virus (as if such a thing won’t be noticed on a well-protected PC) leans a little bit to the paranoic side if you ask me. Anyway, I am definitely gonna pick up Stalker: Clear Sky, Disciples III and maybe Cryostasis no matter what happens.

  9. Bruce, your post is a perfect example of a “free press”. It seems unlikely that you get motivated by some secret services to make up and write bad things about Russia, i think you honestly write what you think, based on information available. I assure you, here the situation is more or less the same. It is strange to think that you have more, or, most importantly, better information on the subject than we.
    1. The press has “self-sensorship” – the majority wouldn’t write anything which is not “trendy” or would put them in direct confrontation with authorities. Yes, your press is more free than ours, but not in the fundamental way. Have you seen the story on Fox news with Ossetian girl unexpectedly saying thanks to Russian troops for saving her? The reaction of the reporter wasn’t dictated by CIA, no Sir. He honestly believed that was the right thing to do. So much for your free press vs. “propaganda”.
    2. As for being fed with anything – every day i see newsfeed from Reuters, headlines from major Russian, Western, Asian newspapers. We even have services like and which translate major articles from all over the world about Russia. So in terms of being aware of opinions that differ from “state propaganda” i’m pretty much on the safe side. I don’t trust or believe in one source of information – i consider them all, especially the state ones, just as “channels”, and most of the time i know when somebody tries to feed me with some BS.
    3. Your article is still biased, and it appeared amidst the wave of waste being written about Russia in connection with Georgia crisis.
    4. Ask your Russian wife to read this for you (Echo Moskvi is one of the opposition radios, so it is far from state propaganda). You’ll find that in Russia people actually can write what they think, and opinions differ greatly.

  10. Thanks for that Andrei.
    Overall I think the Economist version is the most accurate:
    Which includes this:
    “Russia was prepared for the war not only militarily, but also ideologically. Its campaign was crude but effective. While its forces were dropping bombs on Georgia, the Kremlin bombarded its own population with an astonishing, even by Soviet standards, propaganda campaign. One Russian deputy reflected the mood: “Today, it is quite obvious who the parties in the conflict are. They are the US, UK, Israel who participated in training the Georgian army, Ukraine who supplied it with weapons. We are facing a situation where there is a NATO aggression against us.”

    In blue jeans and a sports jacket, Mr Putin, cast as the hero of the war, flew to the Russian side of the Caucasus mountain range to hear, first-hand, hair-raising stories from refugees that ranged from burning young girls alive to stabbing babies and running tanks over old women and children. These stories were whipped up into anti-Georgian and anti-Western hysteria. Russian politicians compared Mr Saakashvili to Saddam Hussein and Hitler and demanded that he face an international tribunal. What Russia was doing, it seemed, was no different from what the West had done in its “humanitarian” interventions.

    There was one difference, however. Russia was dealing with a crisis that it had deliberately created. Its biggest justification for military intervention was that it was formally protecting its own citizens. Soon after Mr Putin’s arrival in the Kremlin in 2000, Russia started to hand out passports to Abkhaz and South Ossetians, while also claiming the role of a neutral peacekeeper in the region. When the fighting broke out between Georgia and South Ossetia, Russia, which had killed tens of thousands of its own citizens in Chechnya, argued that it had to defend its nationals.

    But as Mr Bildt argues, “we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe.” In the process of portraying Georgia as a fascist-led country, Russia was displaying the syndrome it was condemning. And it did not seem to mind when, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports, ethnic Georgian villages were looted and set on fire by South Ossetian militia. “The remaining residents of these villages are facing desperate conditions, with no means of survival, no help, no protection, and nowhere to go,” says Tanya Lokshina of HRW.”

    And there is this:

    “But all of that came to a screeching halt under President Vladimir Putin. And under Putin, the re-Sovietization of the Russian press was done in a weird, almost insidious way. TV and game shows in Russia today can be as silly and racy as in America and while sex and pornography are every bid as available there as in the US, but political coverage has reverted to pretty much the Brezhnev era.

    Just recently, Russia made the International Press Institute’s watch list as one of five countries becoming repressive. Vladimir Putin made the top ten list of Worst Enemies of the Press, a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists and includes other names such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Charles Taylor, Fidel Castro, and Robert Mugabe.

    Last month, new Russian President Dmitri Medvedev issued a letter to the State Duma, opposing the passing of a bill permitting state authorities to suspend individuals who allegedly commit libel against state officials on television. This was an innocuous attempt to show Medvedev to be shifting away from Putin’s crackdown on any shred of independent and free press.

    The facts are chilling. Twenty three journalists, the best known among them Anna Politskaya, were assassinated since Putin took over and none of the murders was resolved. Two of the three major television stations today are directly state-owned, while the third is owned by a company in bed with the Kremlin.

    The often whimsical-turned awkward-turned deadly habits, honed during the Soviet times, are back. Recently, a well known Russian political scientist, Mikhail Delyagin took part in a TV panel discussion in which he made several critical comments of Vladimir Putin. But before the station would air the program, Delyagin had been mysteriously, digitally erased from the screen. In a still photo of the discussion Delyagin’s seat at the panel was empty- except his legs!”

    Yes, that’s 23 journalists killed.

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