Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro raises an image of Jesus Christ during a gathering with Catholic and anti-abortion supporters in Brasilia on April 18, 2020. A media outlet focussed on gender and rights was recently hit with a cyberattack after covering a controversial proposal to disincentivize abortion for rape victims, among other issues. (Sergio Lima/AFP)

Brazilian media outlet that covers women’s rights targeted with DDoS attack

Between March 26 and April 2, 2021, unidentified internet users orchestrated distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Portal Catarinas, an online media outlet specializing in gender, feminism, and human rights, according to Paula Guimarães, the portal’s executive director and a report by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI). The attacks flooded the site with traffic to repeatedly force it offline, Guimarães told CPJ in a phone interview.

Guimarães told CPJ that the attacks began on March 26, and that both the website and institutional email accounts were inaccessible for several hours a day until they successfully implemented security measures on April 2. The site moved to a new hosting service during the incident, but continued to be bombarded with visits from multiple countries, including 15 million within one 24-hour period, according to Guimarães. 

Portal Catarinas was launched in 2016 by journalists in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, according to their website. “We report a lot on abortion, showing the damage caused by criminalizing abortion,” Guimarães told CPJ. “The traditional media still has a sensationalist approach and not a human rights approach,” she said. Abortion is punishable with jail time under the Brazilian Penal Code, with a few exceptions, including pregnancy resulting from rape.

The day the attack started, the site had published a critical article about Bill No. 5435, proposed legislation currently under discussion in the Brazilian Senate that would offer victims of rape a financial reward if they forego an abortion. The bill has been widely criticized by the Feminist Center of Studies and Advisory and other local rights groups, according to news reports.

Guimarães was not sure of the exact reason for the attack, she told CPJ. “As a media outlet led by women, we face a lot of taboos, a lot of prejudice. Journalists are very vulnerable at this moment,” she said. 

Earlier this year, the website of investigative reporting and human rights organization Repórter Brasil was targeted with a DDoS attack, as CPJ documented at the time.

In September 2019 the digital magazine Azmina, which covers women’s rights in Brazil, faced criminal complaints and online harassment over an article about abortion access, as CPJ documented at the time.