A human rights group claims cyber attack knocked it offline following the release of an alleged torture video. An international security expert tells Channel 4 News this attack lacks “sophistication”.
Last week Channel 4 News showed the footage of apparent torture and abuse of tribesmen carried out by Indonesian soldiers in the Indonesian province of West Papua.
Today, the human rights organisation Survival International, which reported on the torture video, claims it has been targeted by a massive cyber attack, which knocked its website offline and simultaneously affected other websites that hosted the video.
A West Papua activist based in the UK told Channel 4 News that the attack specifically targeted the files containing the video of alleged torture and claimed all the evidence points at the Indonesian authorities.
“I certainly don’t think it does the Indonesian government any favours, as it draws lots of attention to the video.” Dave Clemente,Chatham House
But an international security expert told Channel 4 News this appears to be a “very basic attack” and a “poor attempt at cyber censorship”, which could have been done by any hacker.
Other sources have told Channel 4 News the attack may have originated in South America.
Channel 4 News tried contacting the Indonesian Embassy, but was unable to obtain a comment.
Yesterday at around 5pm (BST) a test attack occurred, which soon built into a DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) cyber attack into the evening. Survival claims thousands of PCs across the world simultaneously bombarded its website and knocked it offline.
A West Papua activist based in the UK, Dominic Brown. told Channel 4 News: “Since the beginning of this week, on Sunday evening, several different human rights groups received DDOS attacks which have been flooding the websites with traffic to the point they crash. The attacks have taken place across different websites who showed the (alleged) torture footage.
“Everything is pointing to the work of the Indonesian authorities because all the sites targeted are ones that hosted footage of the (alleged) torture by the Indonesian military.
“On most of sites the attack was specifically targeted at the footage files on their websites, flooding that link with millions of hits.”
But Dave Clemente, an international security expert from Chatham House, told Channel 4 News this appears to be a “very basic attack” and is a “poor attempt at cyber censorship”, which could have been launched by any hacker around the world.
He said: “This appears to be a very basic attack. This is similar to the attacks that took place against Estonia in 2007 and Georgia 2008, but also similar to a whole number of small attacks against a host of websites, shopping websites, government websites. The point is it’s not a sophisticated attack.
“It could have been launched by a small group of attackers. For an attack to come a week after the video was released, suggests that it is possibly nationalistic hackers. I certainly don’t think it does the Indonesian government any favours, as it draws lots of attention to the video.”
But he said any hacker would be able to carry out this type of attack with the right software.
Mr Clemente said it should be classed more as “cyber censorship” rather than “cyber terrorism“.
He said: “This attack is not even in same universe as the Stuxnet, which targeted the Iranian nuclear units. It’s targeted at a handful of relatively small websites, the sort of thing governments, corporations and small businesses are used to dealing with, so whilst it causes disruption, it is more of a nuisance than anything else, which is borne out by the fact Survival International is back online within 24 hours.
“One of the most interesting parts of this is that it appears to be a rather weak attack, by an attacker who clearly doesn’t understand the nature of the internet. It’s a poor attempt at cyber censorship.”
Mr Clemente said the irony of the “cyber censorship” attack is that it has highlighted the video of the alleged abuse.
He said: “It’s a blunt response that has the potential to be counter productive; its main success has been drawing media worldwide attention to the video which is freely available across the internet.”
Channel 4 News report showing alleged torture of tribesmen
Five other websites that hosted the video also appear to have been targeted, including Friends of People Close To Nature, West Papua Media Alerts, Asian Human Rights Commission, Free West Papua Campaign and West Papua Unite, although the Channel 4 News website did not report any problems.
Dominic Brown told Channel 4 News: “They’re targeting campaign websites, not so much news organisations, but ones that are more outspoken; the more partial campaigning groups on behalf of West Papua’s tribesmen.”
Survival also called for tourists to boycott Botswana over the alleged long-running persecution of the Kalahari Bushmen.
Survival says similar attacks occurred during its campaign against the Botswana government, following the eviction of Bushmen from their traditional lands.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “This isn’t a couple of geeks in a shed, it’s an expensive and sophisticated attack amounting to cyber-terrorism. The damage to Survival International may be substantial but is of course nothing compared to that inflicted on West Papuan tribes or Botswana’s Bushmen.
“The attack is so many degrees away from the source that it’s impossible to prove who did it, but we have an idea.” Toby Nicholas, Survival International
A New Media expert at Survival, Toby Nicholas, said it would be difficult to trace those responsible.
He said: “What they’ve done is remarkably effective and expensive. There was obviously a lot of infrastructure and cash behind the whole thing.
“That’s why we think it’s linked to the Indonesian government or military authorities.
“The attack is so many degrees away from the source that it’s impossible to prove who did it, but we have an idea.
“We have been offline for nearly 15 hours now, but we have a back-up page on the site and people can still access the video footage of the torture.”