While many hackers wreak havoc on the Internet strictly for financial gain, there are others who do so to prevent differing opinions from being aired to the public. This sentiment has been expressed in a recently released report entitled “Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Against Independent Media and Human Rights Sites.” The report's authors are listed as Ethan Zuckerman, Hal Roberts, Ryan McGrady, Jillian York, and John Palfrey from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
The group initially solicited the help of 317 human rights and independent media sites across the globe to participate in its study. The list of the 317 sites was derived by asking at least three local experts in each of the nine countries selected for the survey to provide their opinions regarding which were the most prominent independent media sites in their respective nations. Despite the fact that the study based itself on distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against specific websites representing such groups, only 45 of the 317 (14 percent) invited chose to participate.
While the percentage of accepted invitations was low, the Berkman Center finds the low number of willing participants to be acceptable for a few reasons. First, the survey was conducted online, making it difficult to determine if it reached the proper representatives of each site. Second, the main topic of the survey was sensitive. Third, the overall nature of the survey might have been too technical for some to answer properly.
Of the 45 participating sites surveyed, the Berkman Center found that 62 percent had experienced a DDoS attack in the past year, while 72 percent experienced national network filtering at the national level. During that same time period, 39 percent of the sites had experienced an intrusion, while 32 percent experienced a defacement. In addition, 81 percent of those who experienced a DDoS attack also experienced at least one occurrence of filtering, intrusion, or defacement. These numbers suggest that independent media and human rights sites face a variety of attacks from those who oppose their content.
Besides the specific diagnosed attacks, 61 percent of the 45 sites surveyed said that they experienced unexplained downtime in the last year during which they were inaccessible. Of the 61 percent that experienced downtime, 48 percent said the site's inaccessibility lasted for seven days or longer. Since such downtime was not attributed to maintenance or any specific attacks such as DDoS, filtering, intrusion, or defacement, the possibility that more sophisticated attack methods have been created exists.
The Berkman Center's study also found that the frequency of attacks against human rights and independent media sites has increased in recent times. Since 1998, the center found reports detailing 329 attacks spread among over 815 websites. During the 12 months spanning from September 2009 to August 2010, the center found statistics showing 140 attacks versus over 2080 sites. Considering how many attacks are not reported in the media, the numbers could actually be even worse.
Many of the groups that run such sites do not have the financial or technical resources to properly fend off attacks. As a solution, members of the Berkman Center have suggested that the site owners either set up mirror sites in case of attack or that they move their sites to platforms such as WordPress or Blogger that provide some level of protection against DDoS attacks.
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