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A cyberattack took down one of Russia's largest video platforms for days

RuTube, designed as a Kremlin-friendly counterpart to YouTube, came back online Wednesday afternoon after it went dark Monday.
A Rutube broadcasting office
A RuTube broadcasting office in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 2. Andrey Rudakov / Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of Russia’s largest video streaming websites was rendered inoperable for three days after it was the target of a cyberattack.

RuTube, designed as a Kremlin-friendly counterpart to YouTube, came back online Wednesday afternoon after it went dark Monday. RuTube said in messages on its official Telegram channel that it had been the target of the “largest cyberattack” it had ever seen. 

The site still loads slowly, and it’s unclear when full service will be restored.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a near-constant stream of low-level cyberattacks on websites in both countries. Ukraine’s government has even given the “IT Army,” a group of so-called hacktivists, approval to launch almost daily attacks at targets it wants to overwhelm with web traffic.

The attacks, known as DDoS attacks, usually only slow down websites or take them offline briefly. More severe cyberattacks, like the one that has crippled RuTube for days, are far rarer. 

RuTube claimed in posts on Telegram that the attack was designed to keep Russians from viewing the Victory Day parade Monday and that the culprit was a state-sponsored hacker group. The company also said it had hired the Russian cybersecurity firm Positive Technologies, which the U.S. sanctioned last year, accusing it of working with Russian intelligence, to help with its recovery. RuTube and Positive Technologies didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The IT Army and Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, who has repeatedly voiced his support for the hacker group, praised the RuTube hack on their Telegram channels but didn’t claim responsibility.

Russian authorities have censored Western websites for providing news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and steered everyday Russians to use domestic counterparts, said Natalia Krapiva, the tech-legal counsel at Access Now, a nonprofit digital rights group.

“It’s been ironic to observe,” Krapiva said. “They’re making these claims that this will be a substitute for YouTube. They are willing to block everything, separate themselves and have a Russian alternative, and after this attack it sounds like they lost everything.”

To date, the Kremlin hasn’t censored YouTube outright, as it has sites like Facebook and Instagram. But Russian authorities have condemned YouTube in recent weeks, and regulators fined the company 11 million rubles ($162,361) last month for violating a new law against reporting unauthorized news from the invasion. The country’s Science and Higher Education Ministry had instructed universities to move their video content from YouTube to RuTube and VK, a Russian counterpart to Facebook.

But even prominent Kremlin allies have echoed common complaints that RuTube is unintuitive to use. In March, Vladimir Solovyov, a popular pro-Putin media personality, shared a post on Telegram complaining that RuTube barely worked.

The attack illustrated how, while Russia has honed its offensive hacking abilities, it still has severe defensive vulnerabilities, Krapiva said.

“They’re very good at hacking and breaking but not very good at creating and doing something of quality, especially when it comes to sophisticated technology and infrastructure,” she said. “I think that’s a pattern. It’s easy for them to hack and break but not so much to protect what they have or create something better.”