Hackers have used distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) for political purposes before. Anonymous, protesting the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force against two men, recently crashed the police department’s website and subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack with a YouTube video. In the last few years, major American banks have also suffered online outages from DDoS attacks – with many attributing the bank attacks to hacktivists, or ideologically motivated hackers.
According to Alan Wong with The New York Times, Next Media, one of the largest media companies in Hong Kong, became the victim of another political DDoS on June 18th, in what appears an attempt to limit the pro-democracy company’s influence; Next Media publishes Apple Daily, which is a Hong Kong newspaper known for its outspoken and critical opinion of the Chinese government in Hong Kong. The Next Media website was down for nearly twelve hours.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this story is the immense scale and coordination of the attack. Prior to the June 18th attack, Next Media had taken precautionary measures to prevent such an outage, but the hacktivists behind the attack had no trouble overwhelming Next Media’s defenses. Chief Operating Officer Tim Yiu said, “The scale is so big that it overwhelmed the DDoS protection service provider we hired to prevent an outage like this” – so serious planning must have preceded this attack.
At this point, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Next Media founder Jimmy Lai said in an interview, “It’s not my business to speculate… Whoever is behind it, it’s obvious he wants to muzzle the voice for the referendum.” That being said, Apple Daily published a statement on its Taiwan website accusing Chinese hackers of launching the attacks. (Next Media has its suspicions).
This attack against Next Media resembles many previous cyber attacks in several ways. First, Apple Daily has reason to believe it can identify the culprit behind the attack, but the company lacks proof. Second, Next Media’s precautionary measures – and often precautionary measures are not even in place – could not defend against the attacker’s offenses. Third, the attack champions a political end, namely suppressing opposition to the Chinese government in Beijing. Perhaps someone will claim responsibility for the attack in the future, but a culprit will likely never been proven responsible – and certainly not punished.