Gorbushka Market, just outside central Moscow, does a thriving trade in any electronics good you could want: mobile phones, plasma television sets, the latest DVDs, and, if you ask to see them, software peddlers will show potential clients a list of “databases”.
These consist of CDs with names such as “Ministry of Interior – Federal Road Safety Service”, “Tax Service” and “Federal Anti-Narcotics Service” and cost about $100 apiece. Each contains confidential information gathered by Russian law enforcement or government agencies: anything from arrest records, personal addresses, passport numbers, phone records or address books to bank account details, known associates, tax data and flight records are on offer.
. . . .
“American journalists must be envious of how open we are in Russia,” joked Sergei Kanev, an investigative reporter at Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper, who has written articles about the information trade and occasionally uses the databases in his reporting. He says the main users of the information black market are criminals. He has covered cases of blackmail where extortionists used records of reported rapes or prostitution convictions to blackmail women.
Booting up a database of narcotics offenders, Mr Kanev says: “Look here, you have photos, addresses, phone numbers, what kind of drugs they use. It’s very common for con artists to take this database, call up a family member and tell them their son or daughter has been arrested for drugs. They pretend to be policemen and for 10,000 roubles they offer to let the kid go. The parents know their kid is a user, they think its true, and so they pay up. It’s all a trick”.
But don’t worry! The REALLY important stuff is kept strictly secret:
And while it is possible to find many secrets using Russia’s information black market, there is still evidently a tight grip on the most sensitive information of all – foreign bank accounts of top officials, their ownership of assets and those of their relatives. Those are not to be found at the Gorbushka market.
That, in fact, is the main vulnerability of the siloviki. Will anybody exploit it? That would be a reset worthy of the name.