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Russian Gay Dating App Blocked in Sochi; Users Sent Threats of Arrest

The founder and CEO of Hunters, a gay hook-up app popular in Russia which bears similarities to Grindr, tells Towleroad that the app came under an attack by hackers.

HuntersDmitry T (his last name is being withheld at his request, for security reasons), writes:

The anonymous threat which read, "You will be arrested and jailed for gay propaganda in Sochi according to Russian Federal Law #135 Sektion 6" was sent on February 1st, 2014 at 11:52 pm to all users in Russia, including those in Sochi.

Hunters is blocked in Sochi and Adler now, and some 72,000 user profiles were deleted throughout Russia. Hackers completely destroyed their profiles and all their messages."

On the morning of February 2nd, just a few days before the opening of the Olympic Games, users trying to open this gay app in Sochi were greeted with an alert saying that their profile was blocked for the next 55,000 minutes (38 days).

It looks like the Russian Government decided to take full control of the Internet and implement Turkish practices where Grindr has been banned for almost half a year. I think that this attack is connected to increasing censorship of the Internet and very soon other gay dating resources in Russia will face similar problems.

Our team was able to restore 24% of the profiles after 12 long hours. All other profiles were unable to be restored. In order to protect our users from future injustice, we have started moving our servers from Russia to Europe and are planning to finish this process within the next 3-5 days. Therefore, Hunters users may face further disruptions in the coming days.

I urge the entire gay community and all of those who consider the Internet to be a free zone to boycott not only Russian vodka but also everything that is linked to the Olympics and not to buy any Olympic souvenirs."

This attack should be looked at as an attack on the worldwide gay community with the goal of blocking any gay interactions during the Winter Games in Sochi, including those between athletes and locals.

Dmitry provided screenshots of the alleged attack to Towleroad.

If anyone can provide verification of the attack to us please email at tips-at-towleroad-dot-com or leave a note using the 'tips' link on the right-hand side of the site any additional info would be much appreciated.

2_hunters 3_hunters 4_hunters

Dmitry also provided screenshots of user complaints to their support after the app was hacked.

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Comments

  1. This is how you know that "propaganda" is just a smoke screen for what's really going on.

    Posted by: Dave P | Feb 3, 2014 10:30:27 AM


  2. It amazes me that site admins don't back-up their data when they can buy a terabyte of storage for a hundred bucks. Just unplug the USB cable and it's safe from any network attack. Or do it the old fashioned way and burn a DVD-ROM now and then.

    Posted by: Hansel Currywurst | Feb 3, 2014 10:31:28 AM


  3. @Hansel, it's quite possible it all happened quite quickly and without warning. A lot of storage isn't local these days with the advent of cloud storage which can be cheaper in bulk. A terabyte of storage might not cut it in terms of server access. We're not talking about someone's personal computer running an app...it's a business like any other. Having all that private data stored locally would be a huge liability for whomever owned the storage. Better to delegate that liability to the cloud service...that is the business mindset anyhow.

    Posted by: WOLF | Feb 3, 2014 10:48:59 AM


  4. @Hansel

    While I can agree in general backups are important as someone who has/does work in this arena it can cost way more than you think. To do backups in a datacenter you either have to pay the provider or own the server & have access. Both are not common anymore.

    Doing offsite backups can cost a lot of money with the pictures and volume of data, transferring and paying to keep the data stored is not easy. Often, if hackers get to your main system they can corrupt your backups. No one knows how long they were in before they struck.

    With this hack and the purchase/seizure of VK (Russian version of Facebook) it looks like "propaganda" is now officially becoming "living and existing".

    Demonizing is just the beginning, they have now moved to phase two: scrubbing the existence. Removing the "undesirable" people will be the third phase- its easy to kill people that "don't exist".

    Posted by: Nemo | Feb 3, 2014 10:51:48 AM


  5. What ever will our GOP Congressional delegation do now?

    Posted by: Rad | Feb 3, 2014 10:52:44 AM


  6. Demonizing is just the beginning, they have now moved to phase two: scrubbing the existence. Removing the "undesirable" people will be the third phase- its easy to kill people that "don't exist".

    Don't forget the Reichstag Fire. If there is a terrorist attack at the Sochi Olympics, it is quite possible the Russians will blame it on the gays.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Feb 3, 2014 11:00:15 AM


  7. This isn't a random "hacker" prank. The level of intelligence it requires to pull off a hack like this isn't typically indicative of someone who perpetrates hate crimes for funzies. It's far more likely that the people with the know-how are following orders from thugs in a position of authority to commission the hack. This has the stink of the Putin regime all over it.

    On a superficial note, I wish my Grindr grid looked like that!!! Around here, the grid pulls up nothing but fatties and crypt keepers.

    Posted by: FFS | Feb 3, 2014 12:23:13 PM


  8. Why is Russia communicating with users in English? (But misspelling "Sektion"). Feels like a PR stunt to me.

    Posted by: Mike | Feb 3, 2014 1:00:19 PM


  9. Not to be Jessica Fletcher here, but a few other things that don't pass the smell test:

    1. There's also no "Section 6" to Russian Law 135-FZ. It stops at Article 5. Law 135 does contain significant changes to another law's section, but who ever did this is conflating the two.

    2. Dmitry's last name is readily available on iTunes, which makes the "withheld for security reasons" suspect.

    3. As someone else pointed out, the guys on the app screen shot are all INCREDIBLY muscled and hot. I don't think I've seen anything like that outside of a promotional screen grab.

    4. Again, it's in English. This is probably the biggest giveaway.

    If Hunters is using Russian discrimination as a way to attract attention, then this is terrible and takes away from all the actual places LGBT people face persecution.

    Posted by: Mike | Feb 3, 2014 1:41:00 PM


  10. "I wish my Grindr grid looked like that!!! Around here, the grid pulls up nothing but fatties and crypt keepers."

    Thanks, your superficiality helps underscore that people who use these apps generally get their just desserts in one way or another.
    A while ago I posted here that I had google image searched a picture from grindr's grid (as posted at towleroad - I wouldn't touch the app with a ten foot bargepole) and IIRC what turned up was the modelmayhem profile of a straight male model. I bet a lot of hunter's profile pics are similarlly purloined from straight guys on VK, facebook or whatnot. Not that there aren't hot gay men, but I suspect Chris Salvatore gets all the action he wants without using Grindr. And of course his picture has been stolen by someone on Grindr: http://funwithgrindr.blogspot.com/2010/01/grindr-god.html

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Feb 3, 2014 1:42:33 PM


  11. Oh, and all the users handles are in English. Okay, I'm now officially calling this a failed PR stunt.

    Posted by: Mike | Feb 3, 2014 1:42:59 PM


  12. Just a question, if your phone was set to English, wouldn't the names all be translated to English too? (I realise this is probably also app specific)

    Posted by: Stufromoz | Feb 3, 2014 2:21:21 PM


  13. What an obvious publicity stunt. Shame on Towleroad for falling for this hoax and reporting this as news. The guy blames the Russian government??? Since when does the Russian government issue warnings in English? And if they were going to block the site, they would block it and you would just get a 404 or a dead link. this dmitry guy is just trying to drum up publicity for his grinder wannabe.

    Posted by: Steve | Feb 3, 2014 2:42:59 PM


  14. @Wolf and Nemo -- I have dealt professionally with all of the issues you raise. Perhaps you're quite young and/or narrowly-focused to realize that your data is your business. The price you pay for convenience is the risk of your entire enterprise. Decide what is most important. Never rely upon anyone else for ultimate access to your own data, and certainly not that cloud nonsense (maybe you believe bitcoin is "cool", too).

    The 72,000 lost user profiles, even with the images (which don't absolutely have to be backed-up, since the users probably have their own copies too) wouldn't take but a few GB to store. That's actual pocket change if spent on ROM media (that you can label as "Mix Tape" and keep in your sock drawer).

    You don't need to Level 6 RAID store every keystroke ever made by a user, just take a weekly snapshot. If you're using hard drives for backup, keep 4 weeks worth OFFLINE, and take every 4th one out of rotation. Now you have monthly backups. Take every 3rd one of those out of rotation and you have quarterly backups. Take every 4th one of those out of rotation and you have annual backups. If you make ROM backups, keep them all (in multiple physical locations) since you've paid for them. Only mount rewritable backups on a machine that has NEVER EVER been network-connected, even if only for driver updates (get those on disk from the manufacturer or do without). And never backup executables of any kind with data.

    Posted by: Hansel Currywurst | Feb 3, 2014 3:25:29 PM


  15. Thanks for the write-up on proper backups Hansel. As a fellow techie I appreciate your effort...but it's looking more and more like this whole thing is just a publicity grab.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Feb 3, 2014 3:40:49 PM


  16. The editor should remove this article - it seems to be an advertisement trick from the "owner of site" - to get the site's name spread with good PR.
    1) When the site is blocked in Russia or elsewhere - you get BROWSER's page - "blocked because...", not the site itself with strange popup.
    2) Site is loading and you get some strange popup = server got virus
    3) "72,000 user profiles were deleted throughout Russia” - complete bulls**t. To delete users someone has to get full access to the server's database. It has nothing to do with blocking! It means full server was hacked.
    4) Moreover, suppose homophobic hacker got access to database of gay server. Logically he would delete all users (not only from Russia) to do maximum harm.

    Seems that "owner of the site" either complete moron in internet technologies or all his story is just an ad trick and fairytale...

    Posted by: Programmer | Feb 3, 2014 4:17:28 PM


  17. I go to Russia all the time for work. A4A does not work there (the browser will just churn indefinitely) but grinder and manhunt and planetromeo all do.

    Posted by: word | Feb 3, 2014 4:39:31 PM


  18. The most popular site in Russia is Q-guys.

    Posted by: miami | Feb 3, 2014 6:36:09 PM


  19. The most popular site in Russia is Q-guys.

    Posted by: miami | Feb 3, 2014 6:36:10 PM


  20. @Steve: regardless of what happened in this particular case, when your browser sends an HTTP request to a server, that request includes information about your preferred language, and a server can use that to give you an appropriate translation.

    Posted by: Bill | Feb 3, 2014 10:57:01 PM


  21. Yeah and EVERYONE I'm sure looked like those pictures in their profile. Fake!

    Posted by: zeddy | Feb 3, 2014 11:15:24 PM


  22. Yeah and EVERYONE I'm sure looked like those pictures in their profile. Fake!

    Posted by: zeddy | Feb 3, 2014 11:15:26 PM


  23. @EchtKultig: My, but these grapes are sour!

    I'm glad that your monastic existence makes you feel so superior. Hope your over-inflated sense of self-worth keeps you warm at night.

    Posted by: FFS | Feb 3, 2014 11:30:34 PM


  24. Why is it all in English. I've seen Russian guys visiting NY with their profile in Russian and sometimes in broken English. This is supposed to be screenshots? I'm very skeptical. Just look at the perfect bodies and names. Not a one like Boris or Vlad. Shady.

    Posted by: andy | Feb 3, 2014 11:34:02 PM


  25. Would YOU use Dattch? Tell us why... Robyn Exton is the Founder and CEO of Dattch, the Lesbian Dating App for women to date who they want, when they want, where they want http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3biTkkT1H4E

    Posted by: Owen | Feb 18, 2014 9:52:54 AM


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