Netizen Report: Cyberattack Edition

This report was researched, written, and edited by Alex LavertyWeiping Li, Renata Avila, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon.

Last week tens of thousands of Gmail users received warning messages stating “We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.” This is the second wave of such warnings since Google initiated a new policy in June 2012 of warning users when the company's systems detect signs that their account has been targeted. Acting on new intelligence about evolving state-sponsored attack methods, the company decided to send warnings to thousands more users. To see what the warning looks like, click the image below to enlarge:

Source: Google Online Security Blog

While China has been suspected of being behind attacks in the past, Google reported seeing more state-sponsored attacks coming from the Middle East in recent months.

The Iranian government said there were attacks on the nation’s infrastructure and communication companies on October 2. An official said the effect of the attack was “unwanted slowness”, despite the country’s possession of one of the strictest internet filtering barriers in the world. Five days later, Iran claimed to have repelled an Israeli-launched cyberattack against their oil platforms. According to Farsnet, Iranian oil companies were shielded by having their intranet isolated from the Internet, and only telephone networks were affected.


A petition on by PeopleOverPolitics.Org on behalf of Facebook Users & Pages United Against Facebook Speech Suppression calls for an end to Facebook “continuously and arbitrarily removing our posts and other forms of speech without notice or an opportunity to be heard” and a Pay-to-Share algorithm which encourages users to pay to have their posts seen by others.

Google and Gmail have been unblocked in Iran after the government faced a barrage of complaints over the week-long ban, including some from Iran’s own parliament. However, Iran’s Filtering Committee has found more sophisticated approaches to censorship, now implementing a protocol that blocks audiovisual material hosted on external servers from entering Iran.


Cuban blogger and human rights activist Yoani Sanchez was arrested on October 4 in Bayamo, Cuba where she had traveled to report on the trial of a Spanish national accused of vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of two rights activists. She was released 30 hours later following complaints by international press and human rights groups, as well as governments.

Azeri opposition activist and blogger Zaur Gurbanli was arrested on September 29, as part of an ongoing crackdown on media and civil society in Azerbaijan ahead of the October 2013 presidential election, say Reporters without Borders.

Malala Yousufzai, a 14 year old girl, and the author of “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl” on the BBC, advocating for girls’ rights to education, was shot and wounded on October 9 by the Taliban in North-West Pakistan.


In response to a parliament inquiry, the German government has admitted that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the German police has monitored Skype communication, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Facebook when they found it necessary. The document submitted by the government also detailed project expenditures and contractors.

The United States Supreme Court has terminated a 6-year long lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation challenging the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program.


A survey by the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Law and Technology found that a majority of Americans do not want information collected about their online activities, and that they are unaware of a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission for a “do not track” mechanism enabling users to opt out of having their personal data collected by websites that serve tailored advertising.

Google is facing a potential class-action lawsuit in Canada over concerns that Gmail invades users’ privacy by scanning emails. Gmail requires users to agree to its terms of service enabling algorithmic scans of all email content in order to use the service.


Human rights groups are reporting a surge in targeted, Mac-focused malware.

United Arab Emirates pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor reported being the target of sophisticated spyware embedded in a Microsoft Word attachment delivered to him via email.

National Policy

The Philippine Supreme Court suspended a controversial cybercrime law that would curb online freedoms. The law was widely protested by human rights organizations, media and netizens, highlighted in last week’s Netizen Report: Cybercrime Edition.

Vietnam has issued a draft decree which “aims to regulate cross-border Internet activity” according to Vietnamnet, a website run by overseas exiles.

The government of Malawi has introduced legislation, labeled the E-Bill, that would regulate and control online communications. The bill purports to encourage the development of ICT technologies in ways that balance and protect community and individual interests, but has been criticized for provisions that restrict freedom of expression by requiring user information to be divulged and the use of “cyber inspectors” to monitor activity online.

The Indian government has announced plans to acquire code-busting software that would help access and recover data from 4,000 types of mobile phones, in an effort to combat smartphone crime.

Russia’s Communications and Press Ministry has proposed banning children under the age of 18 from using public Wi-Fi networks.


Automated tools used by copyright holders to identify infringing materials have resulted in tremendous mistakes. In a recent example, Microsoft erroneously asked Google to censor nearly 5 million webpages, including those from the BBC, Wikipedia, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Washington Post, and the US government, claiming violation of copyright.

YouTube has made revisions to the appeal process of its Content ID system which detects videos infringing on copyright, and allows copyright holders to block others from making money from the content. The new process offers more options to users who have received copyright infringement notices, giving them an appeals process should a Content ID dispute be rejected.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has decided to delay until 2013 the application of Pirate Party International, the umbrella organization of Pirate Parties in European countries, for observer status. A report by Knowledge Ecology International pointed out specifically that France, Switzerland and the United States raised objections to the application.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Facebook, which just hit a new record by having one billion active monthly users, is aiming for the market in Russia and recruited local talents to build tailor-made applications.

Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica has marched into the business of “big data” with the launch of a new business unit, Dynamic Insights. The carrier will aim its first product at companies and public sector organizations to “measure, compare and understand what factors influence the number of people visiting a location at any time.”

The US House Intelligence Committee released an investigative report on Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE, warning that the two companies’ equipment might enable network espionage and transmit unauthorized data back to China.

Leading Mexican telecommunications company, Telmex, is now offering free connectivity [es] in rural areas.

Internet Governance

On October 9 in Geneva, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) held a briefing session for civil society stakeholders about the controversial upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. An audio recording of the event can be found here.

Also on October 9, the Internet Society of Kolkata held an Asia Internet Symposium titled “The Twin Challenges of Security & Privacy: Balancing the Requirements.”

The world's first Arab Internet Governance Forum is also being held this week (Oct 9-11) in Kuwait.

Nigerian Minister of Communications Technology Omobola Johnson called for international agreement and collaboration among government, private sector, civil society and international organizations in Internet governance at a one day Nigeria Internet Governance Forum.

Netizen Activism

NetProphet profiles Rails Girls, a global non-profit volunteer community dedicated to providing tools and a community for women to understand technology and build their ideas.

October 15 is will mark Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers around the world join forces to raise awareness on important issues. This year’s theme is “The Power of We”. Any blogger can register to take part here.

Cool things

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, co-founder of digital rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net Jeremie Zimmermann, and Andy Müller-Maguhn of German hacker association Chaos Computer Club are co-authors of a new book on Internet freedom. The book is scheduled to hit the shelves in November 2012.

Publications and Studies

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