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Russian authorities spend 30 million rubles on social networks monitoring

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service announced three closed auctions worth more than 30 million rubles with the aim of developing new methods for monitoring blogs and social networks.

The main goal of the initiative is the “mass distribution of informational messages on social networks with the aim of influencing public opinion.”


Programs to control public opinion

The auctions on research under the code names Storm-12, Monitor-3 and Dispute were held in January and February 2012. The texts of the three tasks name military unit No. 54939 as the customer looking to develop programs to “study the intelligence methods of Internet centers and regional segments of social networks” (code Dispute) for 4.41 million rubles, “research secret methods of controlling the Internet” (code Monitor-3) for 4.99 million rubles, as well as to conduct research work to develop a “means of distributing specific information in social networks” (code Storm-12) for 22.8 million rubles. All three projects are closely related.

It is planned that at first Dispute system will monitor the blogosphere, which deals with “the study of the formation of online communities that distribute information in social networks” and “determining the factors affecting the popularity and spread of information.”

The results will be analyzed by Monitor-3 system. Its mission is to “develop methods of organization and management of the virtual community of experts, who provide tasks, control the work in social media and regularly receive information from experts in set areas.” Based on these results, Storm-12 will post the necessary information in social networks.

According to the tender requirements, the dedicated software system will distribute information on social networks and organize “information support for events on prepared scenarios influencing a certain mass audience on social networks.”

This virtual army will use “existing user accounts, in order to influence public opinion,” collect statistics and analyze the effectiveness of the information wave, “analyze the suitability of the most popular social network services for initiating various information waves.”

All three auctions were classified because they were based on a secret government decree from Dec. 23, 2011. The systems are expected to be ready by 2012-13.

The military unit that ordered the programs is part of external intelligence, who did not answer Kommersant’s query on the matter.

The director general of the Internet company that won all three auctions, Igor Matskevich, used to be first deputy of FSB Academy’s Institute of Cryptography, Communications and IT.

Programs could be used in Russia

Sources in security services say the programs could be used both externally and internally.

The systems will be tested “at first stage in countries of Eastern Europe, former Soviet Union,” a source said.

“The Internet has long attracted the attention of security services, and, of course, not only in Russia,” another source said.

Another expert said the target for the systems could be Russian and foreign social networks, like Facebook and Google+. The programs could be effective if administrator rights can be accessed and computers can be infected by bots.

The first talk of influencing other countries via Internet appeared after a scandal over the bronze soldier monument being moved in Tallinn in 2007, said the coordinator of Center for Safe Internet, Urvan Parfentyev.

He mentioned examples of Radio Liberty and Voice of America as ways of influencing opinion in Soviet times, and said now Internet has come to replace radio.

In the last few weeks, the Internet attracted a lot of attention from the government.  The parliament recently passed a law on “blacklisted” websites deemed dangerous for children.