Expensive Calls

Expensive Calls

Photo: https://versia.ru/

A new surge of “telephone terrorism” hit Russia last week. Local authorities in some cities and towns are already tired of responding to reports of bombs planted in public buildings and have stopped evacuating people.

A new strategy is obviously needed in the fight against “telephone terrorism.” It seems that the authorities are set to resort to tougher Internet rules again which will only inconvenience ordinary users.

The current wave of “telephone terrorism” looks much larger than the previous ones. The first messages started coming in from the Urals right after the New Year public holidays. On January 12, students at school No. 151 were evacuated because of email bomb threats. On the same day, 13 courts in Novosibirsk were shut down for the same reason. During the week evacuations from public buildings took place en masse in a number of Russian cities such as Saratov, Samara, Stavropol, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnoyarsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Khabarovsk, Chelyabinsk, Ivanovo, and Sevastopol. Moreover, there were simultaneous bomb threat calls to schools, hospitals and government agencies all at once. Hoax bomb threats were reported in all cases.

Several kindergartens in Krasnoyarsk were promptly evacuated but children at schools stayed put. The authorities explained that the day before police and Federal National Guard Troops Service (Rosgvardia) had tightened security at schools. They checked them for explosives in advance and cordoned them off. In that connection, the question arises: was this option always available?

And this is not the only question. It's not the first time such a wave of “telephone terrorism” happened. Isn't it a reason to take children's institutions under reliable protection?

Especially since there is no shortage of resources. Rosgvardiya constantly grows. Its head Viktor Zolotov said in 2017 that the personnel had increased twofold over a year. No figures were cited but 170,000 people reportedly had served in the internal troops, on the basis of which the Rosgvardia was formed. This allows us to estimate the current strength of the Rosgvardiya at 350,000-430,000 people. In addition, there is news about the allocation of tens of billions of rubles to the security forces. Meanwhile, large-scale evacuations are not cheap. In September 2017, 600 facilities evacuated their personnel following telephone bomb threats. The state spent an estimated 300 million rubles ($3.9 mln) on evacuations. So maybe it is cheaper to prevent the problem than to deal with the consequences?

Instead of just providing physical security to children, the security services are digging in a completely different direction. For example, in 2019, after another wave of false calls, there were discussions about whether or not the Federal Security Service should be allowed to block communications with other countries, from which threatening emails were sent. Experts immediately said that this would not stop the real attackers as they would simply call via third countries. According to this logic, Russia would have to be closed by the Iron Curtain.

While experts argue, Internet traffic control systems are being actively implemented in Russia. Such cases of massive “telephone terrorism” can only spur this process. To comply with the orders of the authorities, telecom operators purchase equipment worth tens of billions of rubles to spy on users. Despite this, the waves of “telephone terrorism” regrettably occur in Russia.

Meanwhile, the allocated money is transferred to very specific people. The Citadel holding controlled by oligarch Alisher Usmanov is considered to be one of the main beneficiaries of the growing wiretapping of the Russian Internet. Usmanov's business partners were the official beneficiaries of the holding. There was also published information about the move of Citadel to the USM holding owned by Usmanov. It is known that some of Citadel's legal entities tripled their revenues up to billions and tens of billions of rubles in 2018. Perhaps this money would be enough to provide round-the-clock security for Russian schools?

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