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The ‘battle’ for Rutube Russia’s YouTube ‘alternative’ down for the second day running following cyberattack

Source: Meduza

On the morning of May 9, the Russian video platform Rutube reported that it had fallen prey to a “powerful cyberattack.” Rutube assured that work was underway to restore access to its site and an hour later claimed to have “localized the incident.” Around 6:00 o’clock that evening, the Rutube press office reported that user data had been saved and that technical work was ongoing. A similar error message was published on the website. 

Rutube later released another update on Telegram, saying that the “battle” with the hackers was ongoing. Journalist Alexander Amzin — the publisher of Signal, a new publication from the creator’s of Meduza — noted that this statement marked a shift in tone. In particular, Rutube underscored that these were “planned and — importantly — costly attacks.” “Someone really wanted to prevent Rutube from showing the Victory [Day] parade and fireworks,” the platform said, promising to broadcast a recording of the event. Shortly thereafter, Rutube spokespeople began publishing their correspondence with Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov. At the same time, they failed to offer any new information about what had happened or say when the platform would be back up and running.

On the morning of May 10, The Village reported that Rutube’s website couldn’t be restored following the cyberattack. The hackers, sources claimed, had “completely deleted the website’s code.” Though platforms typically have backups, The Village’s sources speculated that Rutube wasn’t sure if the hackers still had access to their system or not. Allegedly, the cyberattack was made possible after the access codes for the website leaked online. 

Rutube refuted the reports that the website’s source code had been deleted, but admitted that they were facing the most powerful cyber attack in the platform’s history. “Gloomy forecasts have nothing to do with the current state of affairs: the source code is accessible, the library is intact. The process of restoring remote file system segments and databases on parts of servers is ongoing,” said Rutube technical director Andrey Litvinov. Spokespeople clarified that the cyberattack impacted more than 75 percent of the platform’s main databases and infrastructure, and 90 percent of its backups and database recovery clusters. At the time of this writing, Rutube’s website was still down. 

Rutube is considered Russia’s main “alternative” to YouTube. As reported by Agentstvo and iStories in February 2022, the Russian authorities have been pouring money into domestic video platforms for more than a year, in an alleged attempt to create “substitutes” in case they move to block YouTube. 

Rutube was created in the mid-2000s and quickly caught the attention of the Russian authorities. At the time, its reach was somewhat comparable to YouTube’s: in 2007, 1–2 million people visited Rutube every month, whereas YouTube’s monthly worldwide audience was 40 million people. 

Today, YouTube’s audience includes more than two billion people; RuTube claims to have 25 million active monthly users. According to a September 2021 study by Deloitte, 83 percent of respondents named YouTube among the platforms they use to watch videos, but no one mentioned Rutube.  

Gazprom-Media became Rutube’s sole proprietor in late 2020. According to journalists, renewed talk among Kremlin officials about the need for “alternative” video platforms coincided with the poisoning and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, the 2021 opposition protests in Moscow, and the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West.

Following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, YouTube began blocking videos and accounts linked to pro-Kremlin television channels, prompting these channels to make the switch to Rutube. Russia’s censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, has leveled complaints against YouTube almost daily since the start of the escalated war. Though there have been rumors that Roskomnadzor might block YouTube altogether, the platform is still accessible in Russia.