Despite Georgias claims to the contrary, the attack against Georgian websites by unknown hacker networks was unlikely to have been carried out by the Russian government, though there is no doubt that the hacker networks were based in Russia.
An Israeli cyber expert noted that although the attacks were political in nature, there was no evidence that they were ordered, or sanctioned, by the Russian government.
Russian Hackers Target Gambling Sites
The attacks started with botnets, which are usually personal computers that have been infected with malware and are under the control of the hackers. These ‘botnets00,’ or networks, are used to spam websites and email addresses with hundreds of thousands of visits, ostensibly rendering the websites usable. This is known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DdoS) attack. The Georgian government reported that up to six botnets were used in the attack. The hackers targeted mostly gambling, pornography and prostitution sites, and were mostly likely used as part of an extortion ring, not cyber warfare.
Many of the hacked sites would rather pay up to stop the DdoS attacks than go public, or go to the authorities.
Georgian Hackers Strike Back
After the attacks, groups of Georgian hackers responded by disabling Russian news websites that showed coverage of the breakaway province of Ossetia, backed by Russian troops. Two of Georgia’s ISP companies blocked access to Russian websites and Georgian government officials raised their concerns and allegations internationally.
Russia has always denied the attacks, though the attacks were extremely well-coordinated and took down two of Georgia’s well-known hacker sites to forestall retaliation. Though Georgia claims that the attacks were part of the military action in Tbilisi, the attacks only started after the military fighting commenced. Russian hackers set up a website StopGeorgia.ru where they displayed lists of websites that had been taken down and showing citizens how they could use their own computers to join in the hacking.