Burma’s exile media hit by cyber-attacks

Bangkok, September 27, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by cyber-attacks against three exile-run Burma news outlets, Irrawaddy, Mizzima News, and the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have shut Irrawaddy‘s main website while temporarily blocking access to Mizzima’s site.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the Internet-based attacks. DVB, which was able to maintain access to its site throughout the attacks, speculated in a news story that Burma’s ruling junta may have launched the attacks as a test run for blocking foreign news coverage of elections scheduled for November 7. With Burma’s local media strictly censored, the news gap is filled by Burmese exile-run publications and other foreign media. 

“Although it’s unclear who launched these debilitating attacks, they are consistent with the Burmese government’s past attempts to censor the Internet and block critical foreign news,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We condemn these efforts to silence the few news outlets covering events in Burma.”

The DDoS attacks against Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based news site, started around 1 a.m. today and forced the outlet’s main site closed. Win Thu, an Irrawaddy technician, said in a statement that the volume of the attacks was around two gigabytes, or twice as big as the DDoS attacks that paralyzed the Irrawaddy’s site for three days in 2008.  (A DDoS attack prevents a website from functioning normally by overloading its host server with external communications requests, the volume of which the server is unable to handle.)

The Irrawaddy noted that the new attacks coincide with the third anniversary of the Saffron Revolution, a 2007 nationwide anti-government protest led by Buddhist monks that was eventually quashed by military force. The Burmese government unplugged the Internet ahead of the crackdown, but exile-run news sites kept the world informed about events through undercover reporters.

Aung Zaw, Irrawaddy‘s editor-in-chief, told CPJ that his outlet has few resources to protect itself from DDoS attacks. Irrawaddy was available late today through its mirror site only.

Soe Myint, editor-in-chief of New Delhi-based Mizzima News, told CPJ that the DDoS attacks against his English- and Burmese-language news sites began on Friday, eased over the weekend, and surged again on Monday in volumes large enough to knock both sites off-line. He said most of the DDoS traffic originated from two India-based sites. Mizzima became accessible again late today.

CPJ could not reach DVB officials for comment. The Oslo-based news service said in a news story that it came under “less serious” DDoS attacks launched from Russia, Georgia, Vietnam, Israel, and Kazakhstan.