Mass cyber attack paralyses Burmese media

Websites belonging to exiled Burmese media organisations have been hit with cyber-attacks on the anniversary of the September 2007 uprising.

It mirrors a similar incident in 2008 on the first anniversary of the uprising, also known as the Saffron Revolution, which became Burma’s biggest show of defiance since the 1988 student protests.

Websites belonging to The Irrawaddy magazine, Mizzima and DVB – all exiled media groups founded by former activists – were today attacked using DDoS, or distributed denial-of-service, which fires thousands of malformed web connections against the site.

The strategy has become the Burmese junta’s key weapon of cyber warfare, despite many countries outlawing it – in the UK, conviction of DDoS can carry a 10-year prison sentence. But the laws are comparatively relaxed in a number of other countries, and a similar, but less serious, attack on the DVB website on 20 September used equipment in Russia, Georgia, Vietnam, Israel and Kazakhstan, amongst others.

Concerns will arise as to possible tactics used to control the flow of information around the 7 November elections, with the country already tightening its borders to restrict journalists and observers from entering during the politically sensitive polling time – the government-appointed Election Commission (EC) has already made it clear that foreign election monitors are banned from the country.

But with much of the scenes and details of the Saffron Revolution already in the public sphere, not to mention the Oscar-nominated Burma VJ documentary that covered media and the protests, questions are being asked of the motive behind today’s assault.

“We don’t know why they attacked today,” said Kyaw Zwa Moe, managing editor of The Irrawaddy. “It’s more serious because of the elections in five or six weeks, and this attack is much more powerful than previous ones.

“I think they organised this attack in advance to prepare for the elections. Exiled media will cover extensively the elections so they’re testing the water with the exiled media.”

It appears part of a coordinated effort to bring down the websites, and today’s attack was “very big”, according to the executive director of DVB, Aye Chan Naing, who warned that more are likely to come.

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