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Why did the conflict between Russia and Georgia crash Twitter and Facebook?



Like pretty much everyone who runs for president, Sen. John McCain said a lot of stupid stuff during his campaign.

McCain’s stupidest words, by far: I am very pleased and very privileged to introduce to you the next vice president of the United States, Gov. Sarah Palin.

In my opinion, those are the dumbest words uttered by a major-party nominee since President Ford’s infamous 1976 gaffe, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”

Another McCain head-scratcher occurred when he told supporters at a September 2008 campaign rally that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” Never mind that the collapse of financial markets had just sent the world economy into a death spiral.

I know I just ruined it by devoting 150 words to make fun of him, but I actually bring up McCain this week to praise him and acknowledge he was right about something very important.

Exactly one year ago, McCain denounced Russian military advances in the Republic of Georgia by declaring: “We’re all Georgians now.”

At the time, I considered it a gaffe. “We’re all Georgians now?” I thought. “Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was dumb enough to take on the Russian army, so now I have to join the fight?” I don’t even like my home state Georgia enough to defend it from Russian troops. I’m sure as hell not eager to stick my neck out for the Republic of Georgia.

But McCain wasn’t really saying he wanted me to my grab my guns and get ready to play Red Dawn 2: Suck My Caucasus.

Blinded by my dislike for his campaign tactics, and the fact that one of his top policy advisers was a paid lobbyist for the Republic of Georgia, I missed part of McCain’s meaning: that far-off wars matter to us whether we like it or not.

The subtle correctness of McCain’s remark became apparent on Aug. 6, 2009.

That’s when what appears to have been a cyber attack aimed at a lone Georgian blogger crashed not only Twitter, but also Facebook, leaving millions of Americans with no public forum to wax poetic about the perfect egg-to-chorizo ratio in their organic breakfast burritos, or to repeat that funny thing Gary said in the elevator.

The targeted Georgian bloggers online name is cyxymu. His real name is Georgy Jakhaia. He’s a 34-year-old economics professor living in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. He is also one of an estimated 22,000 refugees of the Russian-Georgian war. Cyxymu is the Cyrillic alphabet spelling of Sukhumi, a town in the disputed Georgian region of Abkhazia.

What did cyxymu say that allegedly spurred Russian hackers to take down Twitter and Facebook?

Honestly, I’m not sure. His blogs mostly use the Cyrillic alphabet, which I can’t read. He did tell the Times of London, however, that he's harshly critical of Russian policies vis-à-vis Georgia and that he’d received many threats from Russia in response to his comments.

In an attempt to shut him up, Russian hackers are believed to have generated millions of spam messages designed to look as if they were coming from cyxymu.

So many messages were generated in such a short period, however, that Twitter and Facebook’s servers choked for several hours.

Does the inconvenience of a short Facebook/Twitter crash mean that Americans are victims of war on par with the estimated 2,000 people who died in the actual fighting last year?

Of course not.

But it does demonstrate that our increasing reliance on electronic communication networks makes the U.S. vulnerable to attacks in ways we never before imagined. The military, police, doctors, hospitals, ambulances, traffic signals, farmers, and egg and chorizo breakfast burrito rollers rely on electronic communication to do their jobs.

If Russians can knock out Facebook and Twitter by accident, it makes you wonder what they could do on purpose.

We’re not all Georgians now. But we’re all cyxymu.

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