Skip to main content

‘The Information Nation’: Kremlin researchers and forensic journalists intersect at Russia’s black market for leaked personal data

34 minutes
‘The Information Nation’: Kremlin researchers and forensic journalists intersect at Russia’s black market for leaked personal data
00:0033:47

The Russian Presidential Affairs Department’s Scientific Research Computing Center (GRCC) develops systems to monitor and deanonymize social-media users, and it sells these systems to government and private clients alike. Using the company’s services, insurance companies can root out dishonest employees, and security-guard companies can recruit new staff. Other GRCC programs allow the police to hunt down “extremists” online. In a special report published in late September, Meduza learned that these computing systems collect information on Russians not just from open sources, but also from leaked databases that are sold illegally on the black market. 

To find out more about Russia’s database black market and how this information is being used, “The Naked Pravda” spoke to Meduza special correspondent Liliya Yapparova and Christo Grozev and Aric Toler, two top researchers at the investigative journalism website Bellingcat.

In this episode:

  • (2:01) Liliya Yapparova explains how she first learned about GRCC and its controversial products.
  • (5:46) Kevin and Liliya discuss the ethics of using illegal databases to hunt down criminals, and the tradeoffs tech consumers accept when embracing news services.
  • (9:15) Christo Grozev reviews Bellingcat’s history and how he came to the group.
  • (11:39) Aric Toler describes “digital stalking” and talks about Bellingcat’s mid-October report about one of the alleged Skripal poisoners attending the family wedding of a Russian military intelligence commander.
  • (21:31) Aric explains why Bellingcat isn’t like Wikileaks.
  • (23:56) Christo talks about when Bellingcat thinks it’s okay to use leaked databases.
  • (30:29) Liliya and Christo argue that Russia’s data-leak problem can’t be fixed anytime soon.

“The Naked Pravda” comes out on Fridays. Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

Producer, sound editing, and mixing — Kevin Rothrock

Executive producer — Alexandr Sadikov

Music — Victor Davydov

Send any questions or comments to kevin@meduza.io