Sun, 24 Sep 2023

Press Freedom Group Battles Ongoing Cyberattack

Voice of America
15 Sep 2023, 16:07 GMT+10

washington - A press freedom group based in Austria has been combating a cyberattack since early September that the group believes is in retaliation for its recent report on similar attacks against independent media in Hungary.

The International Press Institute announced Thursday that the group has been fighting "a targeted and sustained cyberattack" since September 1. The assault on IPI began with a series of distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that took the organization's website offline for three days.

A DDoS attack is a form of cyberattack that temporarily slows or crashes a website by overloading its servers with millions of simultaneous access requests.

"It really has just strengthened our dedication and our commitment to our mission," IPI advocacy director Amy Brouillette told VOA from Vienna, where IPI is based.

"It's sharpened our resolve. We are more committed than ever to our mission, and we're more committed than ever to supporting Hungarian independent media and independent media around the world," Brouillette added.

IPI's website has since been restored, but the organization continues to face milder DDoS attacks, the group said in a statement. The persistent assault marks the most severe attack on IPI's online infrastructure since the group was founded in 1950, IPI said.

In response to the attack, IPI has reinforced its security measures and filed a report with Austrian police's cybercrime unit.

IPI believes the cyberattacks are in retaliation for an August report the group published about cyberattacks against independent media in Hungary.

More than 40 Hungarian media websites have been hit by DDoS attacks in the last five months, the report found. Outlets that are critical of the government were hit particularly hard, according to the report.

IPI said evidence suggests the same attacker that has been targeting independent media in Hungary is also responsible for the attack on IPI.

No actor has taken responsibility for the attacks against Hungarian media, but IPI reported in August that the perpetrator appears to go by the nickname HANO, which is a Hungarian acronym for a medical condition that causes bodily swelling.

The attacker left a similar message to IPI. In the log data of the attack, the perpetrator left a message in English: "See you next time Hano hates u."

Brouillette said IPI wasn't taking that warning very seriously.

The first phase of the attack on IPI did not knock out the group's website, but between September 6 and 8, the perpetrators brought it down multiple times. On September 8, the attack increased to 350,000 requests per second. DDoS attacks can be significantly larger.

"It was aggressively persistent," Brouillette said.

The attacks came from servers around the world, including the United States, Germany, Russia, France, Indonesia and Singapore, but IPI said that doesn't reveal much about where the attacker is located because the traffic is rerouted.

It is unclear whether the DDoS attacks against IPI and independent media in Hungary are government-backed, according to Brouillette.

Hungary's Washington Embassy did not immediately reply to VOA's email requesting comment.

Brouillette said the attack on IPI underscores the concerning state of press freedom in Hungary and around the world. In terms of media freedom, Hungary ranks among the worst countries in the European Union.

"It reflects a wider and alarming pattern of the abuse of digital tools by malicious actors, not only against journalists but also against the organizations that defend journalists," Brouillette said.

Brouillette added that the assault on IPI underscores the increasing threat that DDoS attacks are posing around the world - from Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan to Nigeria and the Philippines.

"DDoS attacks in general are on the rise," she said. "It's a really big and very dangerous new front in the war against press freedom."

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