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The Burmese Regime’s Cyber Offensive: Irrawaddy News Attack

September 18, 2008

Ed. Note – The Irrawaddy News site has temporarily moved to a blog format due to recent attacks. One would assume it’s the military junta’s way of halting news from getting out. Anyone else think something big is coming?

From The Irrawaddy Magazine
By AUNG ZAW

Marking the anniversaries of the student uprising on September 18, 1988, and the Buddhist monk-led demonstrations last year, the Burmese junta has launched another offensive—a cyber attack—on The Irrawaddy and several other Burmese news agencies in exile.

We at The Irrawaddy quickly learned the attack was linked to the anniversary of the “Saffron Revolution.” Burma’s military authorities obviously did not want any similar sentiments this year and, once again, shot down their enemies.

Exiled media groups, bloggers, reporters inside Burma and citizen journalists played major roles in September 2007 in highlighting the brutal suppression of the monks and their supporters in the streets of Rangoon.

Live images, eye-witness reports, updates and photographs landed on our desks every few seconds. The outside world was able to witness the terror of the Burmese regime on TV and on the Internet.

And so the military regime struck back. On September 27, all connections to the Internet were closed down for four days as the authorities tried to conceal their crimes.

So it was no surprise that they attempted the same tactic this year.

On Tuesday, we received reports that the Internet in Burma was running slowly, suggesting a concerted effort to prevent information from going in or out of the country.

Then on Wednesday, our colleagues and subscribers in the US, Japan and Malaysia notified our Thailand-based office that they were unable to access our Web site.

A few hours later, I-NET, the largest host server in Thailand, confirmed: “Your site has been under distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack since around 5pm.”

I-NET finally decided to shut down our server.

Singlehop, which hosts The Irrawaddy’s mirror site, explained: “Your server is under a major attack. Due to the size of the attack our network engineers had to null route the IP to negate it. When the attack has subsided we will remove the null route.”

Singlehop told us that the cyber attack was very sophisticated.

Currently, our Web site is disabled and we have been forced to launch our daily news in blogs. Fellow exiled news agencies Democratic Voice of Burma and New Era were also disabled.

The attack on our Web sites is persistent and believed to be manually launched from various locations – the attacks on our site including mirror site continue.

It is no secret that in recent years Burma’s regime sent an army of students to Russia for cyber warfare training. They also enjoy a large budget to hire cyber criminals overseas to attack exiled media Web sites.

Burmese dissidents believe that some of the cyber criminals working for the regime are based in the US, Japan and Europe. One IP address identified in the current attack was in The Netherlands.

In Burma, Internet cafes are not safe. They are the substations of subversive activity. In some Internet cafes, users have to provide ID, informers observe students playing video games, and Buddhist monks complain they are treated like criminals if they ask to the Internet.

In this increasing climate of fear where Internet users are frequently suspected of working for exiled media, people in Burma there are naturally afraid to communicate.

Reporters, editors and publishers based in Rangoon are under increasing pressure. Earlier this month, police apprehended some reporters for allegedly working for The Irrawaddy, though they were not.

Our stringers remain undetected, though they say they are nervous.

My friend, a foreign journalist who just came out of Burma, said that the mood was very tense. “It is hard for our Burmese colleagues to report,” she said. “But they are very brave.”

Over the last 20 years, the ongoing battle between Burma’s regime and the pro-democratic forces has shifted from the streets to the jungle and now to the computer.

The Burmese junta will not give in—rather, they will equip themselves and become more sophisticated.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the cyber attack against us, we at The Irrawaddy have to build stronger firewalls and more effective systems to prevent inevitable attacks in the future.

However, the junta is mistaken. Ultimately, the flow of information is unstoppable. The Burmese regime’s cyber criminals cannot penetrate the strongest firewall of all—the spirit of desire for change.

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