International Federation of Journalists deplores cyber attack on pro-democracy news websites

Hong Kong, China - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the massive cyber attack on a Hong Kong media group, which was clearly aimed at suppressing press freedom.

Apple Daily, a pro-democracy Chinese language newspaper published by Next Media, suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack starting around 3.30am on Wednesday, June 18. Next Media reported that its system was inundated with 4 billion inquiries per second, leaving it “paralysed” for more than 10 hours. All Next Media Group websites and cell phone apps in Hong Kong and Taiwan were shut down.

Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai Chi-ying blamed the Chinese central authorities for the attack, saying Beijing wanted to silence supporters of a mock referendum on franchise options for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. A website built to host the HKU Public Opinion Programme Poll, planned for June 20 to 22, suffered a similar DDoS attack earlier in the week.

A Next Media senior executive told the IFJ: “We have never seen such massive attack before. I haven’t received a report from my colleagues but you may guess the attack was similar to HKU Poll. We noticed some irregularity on our system on June 14. The traffic to our websites slowed down, but there were no severe delays. The attack this time was massive.”

An Apple Daily journalist said: “We could send out emails but were unable to receive any.”

On June 13, Apple Daily launched a separate online platform focused on reporting on the mock referendum. It also published several articles about the planned opinion poll. The “referendum” was instigated by the Occupy Central Movement, which is calling on the Hong Kong Government and Central Government of China to conduct the 2017 chief executive election on the basis of international standards of universal suffrage. A journalist told IFJ that traffic on the “referendum” website was slower than on others.

The website for the HKU Poll was built by the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It suffered a massive DDoS attack when it began allowing members of the public to register their identities so that they could vote on the proposals for political reform.

The organisers said one of the servers, provided by Amazon, was swamped with 10 billion inquiries within 20 hours. Two out of three service providers had already decided to stop providing any service.

At the same time, a system run by Hong Kong 2020, a political group led by former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, was infiltrated by hackers who used it to send out fake emails that purported to come from Hong Kong 2020.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “This is clearly a cyber attack on a media outlet aimed at suppressing press freedom. The Hong Kong Government has a duty to protect the free flow of information, which is the cornerstone of press freedom.”

We urge the Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police to investigate this crime and release the report to the public.

We also urge all media personnel to stay alert and defend their right to press freedom.

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