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Thursday, June 30, 2011

News portals may face more online attacks

As it gets closer to the Bersih rally, alternative news portals and activist blogs will face increasing cyber-attacks, say media watchers

KUALA LUMPUR: Online attacks against alternative news portals and activist blogs will intensify, as the clock ticks down to the July 9 Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) rally.

Centre for Independent Journalism programme director Chuah Siew Eng said that these cyber-attacks were a now a norm during politically challenging times.

“There will definitely be some Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. That seems to be the trend,” she said, attributing these attacks to “unknown persons”.

“They will target certain media that are outspoken. But they cannot shut down the whole Internet, that’s too drastic.”

Chuah used the recent Sarawak state election in April as an example. At the time, both whistleblower site Sarawak Report and online news portal Malaysiakini crashed due to incessant DDoS attacks.

However, she said that the government would not cut off the country’s Internet access like Egypt because it had too much to lose.

She said that such an action would backfire against the government, and attract more people to Bersih’s cause.

“If Facebook were to get shut down, if the government were to do that, the fence-sitters, or the ones not affected (by the protests)… it would make more of them involved,” she said.

In the early days of this year’s Egyptian revolution, former president Hosni Mubarak’s administration cut off the country’s Internet and cellular access in a bid to isolate opposition groups from each other.

However, the move did little to stave the anger Egyptians had against Mubarak. Some experts claimed that the cutoff actually backfired against the government.

MCMC warnings

Like Chuah, Media Defence South East Asia (MDSEA) executive director HR Dipendra did not think the government would cut off Internet access.

“A total Internet shutdown didn’t really work in Egypt. (For Malaysia), they can either shut down everything, or not shut it down at all,” he said.

In the mean time, Dipendra said that local alternative news sites may get warnings from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

“You may get calls and notices from the MCMC. They will probably try to tell you not to make things worse, or quote national security reasons.”

“But they would be hard-pressed to come up with any legal justifications,” he said.

He added that the authorities may resort to a physical closing of alternative news sites, if violence erupted on the day of the rally itself.

“You may even be physically shut down, and although you can operate remotely, there’ll be a lot of inconvenience,” he said.

He added that in such an event, the government may even take social media sites such as Facebook off the radar, adding: “Only if it’s absolutely necessary.”

However, former National Union of Journalists chief Hata Wahari, was not so optimistic.

Many things will happen

Hata said that the mass arrests and heavy-handed police action set a precedent for future government action.

“I think everything is possible now. If you wear Bersih T-shirts, you’ll get caught… do you think they will allow you to update your website?” he told FMT.

He said that the government was taking more drastic measures than it did when it faced the first Bersih protests in 2007.

“If you look in Bersih 1.0, there was very minimal block-out. But now I see a lot of precedents. They use (Section) 122 (of the Penal Code), Sedition Act, raids without warrants.”

“I think many more things will happen in the next week,” he said.

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