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Belarusian Opposition Websites 'Hijacked'


President Lukashenka speaks to journalists after voting today

President Lukashenka speaks to journalists after voting today

Belarus is holding a presidential election today (hard-line President Lukashenka is expected to win) and there are reports that a number of the country’s opposition websites have been subjected to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

This from Hal Roberts from Harvard University’s Berkman Center:

I am getting reports from a digital activist whom I trust of DDoS attacks against a number of sites, which is common during times of crisis in authoritarian countries. I can verify that the following sites have been inaccessible at times this morning: charter97.org, belaruspartisan.org ucpb.org. He is also reporting that international connections to ports 443 and 465 are being blocked, which will prevent users from securely posting content to international sites like facebook and twitter and from sending mail through international carriers like gmail (the blocking is apparently for all international sites, though, not just ones that may be offensive to the government).

A number of mirrors of independent media websites have also appeared:

Most interestingly, he reports that BELPAK, the Belarussian national ISP, has been silently redirecting requests from independent media sites to copies of those sites presumably run by pro-government actors, if not the government itself. So when a user requests gazetaby.com, the ISP hijacks the request and instead of returning the requested page returns a redirect for gazetaby.in.

For instance there is a mirror site of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, svaboda.org, at svaboda.in, although it’s unclear whether users in Belarus were earlier being redirected to that site. As of now, they can reach svaboda.org just fine, although it’s reportedly a bit slow.

Roberts notes that the mirror sites seemed to host much of the same content as the original, but “Presumably as election day goes on, though, the government will use the fake site to prevent publication of stories that it does not like (by merely not mirroring them onto the fake site).”

It also looks like whoever is responsible for the mirrors is using them in an attempt to disrupt opposition protests. For example, right now, the lead story on RFE/RL’s Belarus Service website reports that presidential candidates have urged people to turn out on Minsk’s October Square this evening.

But on the mirror site, svaboda.in, the top story says the location of the rally is the Academy of Sciences.

Since recent DDoS attacks against companies who were perceived to be anti-WikiLeaks there has been a vibrant debate about the legitimacy and ethics of DDOS attacks. Are they a new form of civil disobedience or merely cyber-vandalism? There’s a good discussion of the issue here at Deanna Zandt’s blog.

One of the arguments against legitimizing or condoning DDoS attacks is that all the publicity and praise might mean a proliferation of such attacks. And the ones who will suffer the most will be dissidents in repressive societies without the capacity to deal with them, rather than big Internet giants like Amazon or PayPal.

While it’s an interesting ethical and moral debate, the people interested in carrying out these types of attacks in places like Belarus probably aren’t sitting around waiting for their attacks to be “legitimized.” They are just going to do them anyway.

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