The websites for Radio Free Malaysia, Radio Free Sarawak and the news portal Sarawak Report, which represent free media in Malaysia, have all been subject to relentless DDOS attacks since the beginning of this week.
Today, Thursday 11th April, the sites were hacked and all three were brought down. The attacks have coincided with various forms of jamming which have been attempted against the broadcasts of both the independent Radio Stations, which operate from outside of Malaysia.
Radio Free Sarawak is at 1100-1300 UTC on 15230 kHz Short Wave and Radio Free Malaysia is at 1300-1500 UTC on 1359 kHz Medium Wave. Both stations are still available on Sound Cloud:
Malaysia, which poses as a democracy, has nevertheless one of the most restrictive medias in the world, dominated by the ruling Barisan National coalition. Widespread access to the internet has broken into that monopoloy over information in recent years, however, evidently causing considerable concern to a government beset by recent scandals and corruption investigations involving senior figures.
Disruption of independent online news portals is regular in Malaysia and entirely expected after the disollution of Parliament finally took place last week, in anticipation of elections due on May 5th. The human rights organisation Suaram has also been knocked offline as have the news outlets Free Malaysia Today and Malaysian Insider.
The Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks have been mounting against the anti-corruption site Sarawak Report for the past few weeks. The site has focused on exposing timber corruption over the past three years, demonstrating how the destruction of the Borneo Jungle has been driven by a small number of politically connected individuals in the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah.
Yesterday, Wednesday 10th April, the site was targeted by 64 million hits designed to take down its server. The sister sites for the two radio stations received similar attacks. Most of the attacks have radiated out of Russia and Eastern Europe and site administrators were able to fend off the onslaught until the site itself was hacked earlier today.
The NGO Access Now, which campaigns to support freedom of expression on the internet, has moved to assist the websites in their purpose of providing independent news and information to Malaysian voters in the run up to May 5th.
“This is a pretty typical pattern for an automated attack”, explains Gustav Bjorksten from Access Now, “anyone opposing a dictatorial power tends to get attacked by DDOS. With the calling of an election you can pretty much set your clock by it”.
Behind the attacks are criminals who build large ‘botnets’, which they then hire out to people who pay, for example governments trying to suppress inconvenient information. The cost is phenomenal, with the sort of major attacks sustained by Sarawak Report running into hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of weeks.
The botnets operate through a web of a very large number of compromised computers, which send out millions of emails to disable the target sites. The common perpetrators are based in Russia and countries in Eastern Europe, including Lithuania and the Ukraine. Turkey is also a centre for this kind of activity.
“This is a pretty big attack” Bjorksten said of the assault on Sarawak Report and its sister sites, “they are serious, they want you off line”.
Clare Rewcastle Brown, the Editor of Sarawak Report and the Founder of Radio Free Sarawak and Radio Free Malaysia, which operate out of London in order to avoid Malaysian censorship, said today that the Malaysian Government was only showing itself up by resorting to such tactics.
“This is not a proper expenditure of taxpayers’ money and it only goes to prove how vulnerable this 50 year old regime feels to the truth” she said. “BN controls every single news paper and broadcast outlet in Malaysia, which are all forced to pour out propaganda favouring their party and to attack opposition leaders without allowing them their right of reply. And yet BN are nevertheless clearly terrified by even the most modest platforms providing independent news or alternative information. They are also plainly threatened by the evidence about outrageous corruption by the party’s top politicians, who have been robbing the country in recent years and amassing astonishing fortunes. Such evidence is suppressed in the mainstream media, yet Malaysia has been stripped of its resources and wealth by the political classes, who are exporting huge sums into tax havens abroad. Particularly in the rainforest states of Sabah and Sarawak the mass of ordinary people have been left poorer than ever.
“The BN establishment clearly feel unable to defend themselves against the mass of available evidence of this corruption, so they are resorting to attempting to silence the messengers. It won’t work and it just reveals them for what they are, which is politicians who dare not subject themselves to free and open debate”.
“It is really quite shameful that a government such as Malaysia should consider it appropriate to resort to hiring criminals with taxpayers’ money. They talk about the benefits of winning the “cyber-war” as if there was some honour in what they are doing. This is a dishonerable tactic and it shows just what a sham this supposedly democratic election is, where the critics of bribes, jerryamandering and vote-rigging are being silenced by such means”.