Anybody who regular uses Twitter may have been frustrated yesterday by the two hour outage, as well as some irregularities at Facebook. What you may not have known is that it was all caused by a massive, coordinated attack against one Georgian blogger known as CYXYMU (if his blog ever gets back up online, it is located here). The popular social media platforms, as well as LiveJournal, were taken down by the now familiar cyber warfare tactic of “denial of service” attacks, which seek to create artificially high simultaneous hits and requests which are capable of crashing servers (read this article to learn how easy it is to become a cyber foot soldier). It is these kinds of DOS attacks which have become frequently targeted against Russia’s periphery, such as Estonia and others.
The Guardianhas tracked down the blogger for an interview, and quite logically, heblames Russia, the FSB, or elements related to the state: “Maybe itwas carried out by ordinary hackers but I’m certain the order came fromthe Russian government. (…) An attack on such a scale that affectedthree worldwide services withnumerous servers could only be organised by someone with huge resources.“
Evgeny Morozov’s NetEffect blogover at Foreign Policy, which I regard as the best source on thistopic, is already calling CYXYMU a “digital refugee.” Morozov hasactually tracked the struggling blogging career of this individualsince last February, arguing that the frequent and heavy cyber attacksagainst him actually forced LiveJournal at one point to shut down hisaccount. In other words, with a committed cyber war directed againstkey individuals, these hackers are able to exercise a form ofcensorship, requiring the user to move from platform to platform, fromaccount to account, or ideally, just give up and quit.
I agree with Morozov’s main point – that the purpose of the attack onCYXYMU’s profiles on Twitter and Facebook was not to suppress damaginginformation or overtly political opinions, but rather to flex theircyber muscles, grab some headlines to announce the threat of theirhacking prowess and reach, and lastly, just good ole’ generichumiliation.
I am struck with a few general thoughts … one is that from atechnical perspective, better defenses need to be developed which cansense the difference between normal visitors and a DOS attack (thoughthat’s above my pay grade), second, is that free speech advocates needto pay closer attention to how social media platforms use “terms ofservice” agreements, and lastly, just what kind of cravenly unpleasant people feel the need to terrorize and censor those whom they disagree with? If a given person finds themselves on one side of the debate, is a supporter of the Putin regime, and defends their conduct in the Georgian war, that’s all well and fine … but if you are confident of your position you should have no shortage of counter-arguments to the kinds of postings being put up by CYXYMU. I think it says a lot about someone who prefers to silence their opponent rather than attempt to win the debate through argument.