The site for playing pranks on Russian officials

The site for playing pranks on Russian officials

The so-called robocalls have become a scourge of our times. These automated calls that play recorded messages are a calamity for concentration and a nuisance that seems impossible to get rid of. Apparently, however, they can be used to strike a blow - however marginal and somewhat absurd - against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Thursday, May 18, a group of international hacktivists launched a website web,, which combines phone pranks and robocalls to annoy the Russian state. By clicking on a button, the site will scroll through a list of telephone numbers belonging to members of the Russian government, army and secret services that have become public thanks to leaks, connecting two Russian officials selected at random, and allowing the site visitor to listen to them silently as they try to understand why they are talking and who initiated the call.

"We hope to create confusion, that [Russian officials, ed.] will get annoyed and that these phone calls may be interesting for Russian speakers to listen to, "explains one of the creators of the site, who goes by the name Shera and adds that the group of artists, activists and programmers behind is called Obfuscated Dreams of Scheherazade. "This war started in Moscow and St. Petersburg, within Putin's circle of power, and it is they that we want to disturb," explains Shera.

Since Russia started the war in Ukraine on February 24, independent hacktivists and those gathered by the Ukrainian government have set up an unprecedented campaign of cyber attacks targeting Russian organizations, some of which have led to the theft and dissemination of hundreds of gigabytes of emails and private information. The Ukrainian government itself has made public a list which it claims contained the names and contact information of 620 Russian intelligence agents.

How the site works The creators of have sifted through the information contained in the leaks, extracting phone numbers from emails and combining the results with data from other public sources. They say they have collected more than five thousand Russian government telephone numbers, both landlines and mobile phones, including those of members of the military police, staff of the Duma - the lower house of parliament - and even of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which now they are targeted by automated calls that originate from the site.

WiredLeaks, how to send us an anonymous report allows you to initiate a VoIP call, automatically dialing forty phone numbers and letting users participate in the phone call of the first two Russian officials connecting. The creators of the site say they have decided not to allow users to talk during calls, to prevent them from saying something that could lead to their identification and put them in danger. The site works as a kind of performance art installation, allowing visitors to silently enjoy spam calls. "Join the civilian intervention against the war - reads a message on the portal -. If you are on the phone, you cannot drop bombs or coordinate soldiers".

In the dozen test calls made by US shortly before launch, the site still seemed to have some problems. It only worked on desktop, and many of the calls were diverted to answering machines or ended in silence at one end of the line. In about half of the calls, at least one Russian-speaking person answered the phone. On one occasion both people answered, but due to the delay one of them hung up before the other started talking. Shera said the developers are looking into a possible latency problem [at the time of this article the site is unable to initiate phone calls].

The birth of the project The creators of tell that the idea came about twenty-four hours after Russia began invading Ukraine. While discussing possible anti-war protests or disruptive actions, the hacktivist group thought about creating a site that would use the leaked Russian phone numbers to allow users to phone ordinary Russian citizens and talk to them about the invasion. . But when they realized that most users would not be able to speak Russian and that the calls could create security problems, the hacktivists decided to go for pranks on Russian officials.

The creators of the site say it took nearly three months to complete the project, partly because they wanted to make sure it was able to withstand the inevitable reaction of the site's objectives. They put in a large pool of phone numbers to make it harder to block or ignore calls. The hacktivists have also used a service that guarantees a defense against distributed denial of service (ddos) attacks, which could be used to take the site offline by overloading it with unwanted traffic. "We don't think the system will last forever; one day it will probably be blocked," says Shera, alluding to the possibility that the site might be able to stay online for hours or weeks.

The creators of WasteRussianTime. today say they analyzed the phone numbers posted on the site to make sure they belonged to government or military personnel and not Russian civilians. However, the hacktivists admit that they have not done many tests on the numbers, in order not to alert the targets too early and push them to block calls. In a message posted online, the group called on Russians to share any other government or military phone numbers they have, but asked for proof of their authenticity so as to avoid harassing civilians: " our best not to call a random granny in Siberia, "says Shera.

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Arrow Hacktivists say their idea was in part inspired by investigative reporters from Bellingcat and Russian news site The Insider, who contacted Russian intelligence officers and even agents pretending to be their colleagues or superiors and prompting them to disclose sensitive information. The best known case in which the technique was used was the one involving Alexei Navalny, the Russian dissident (and Bellingcat collaborator) who, during a phone call lasting almost an hour, induced an FSB agent to confess that he had attempted to assassinate him with the nerve agent Novichok.

Christo Grozev, the Bulgarian researcher and journalist from Bellingcat who helped Navalny fake the phone call with the FSB, points out that the project has consequences : "Whenever something like this goes public, entire departments change their phone numbers, and that's not good for investigations, including journalistic ones," explains Grozev.

However, Grozev says he appreciates the spirit in which the project was conceived, which could discourage or demotivate the employees of the Russian government, insinuating the doubt that their private information is not protected. "It's a great psychological operation - he says -, but it's more of a radio show joke than a journalistic work".

For her part, Shera underlines how many of the numbers used by the site had already been leaked and are to varying degrees public. But even if the effect of the project were little more than a joke, it would not be a problem: "We just want to do our part and annoy the Russian military-industrial complex - he explains -, and make people laugh a little" .

This article originally appeared on US.

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