Netizen Report: World Cyberattack Week?

Image via Flickr user 禁书网中国禁闻; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image via Flickr user 禁书网中国禁闻; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Alex Laverty, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins with a series of politically motivated cyberattacks targeting major websites in China, Palestine, and the US.


The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) attacked the domain name registrars of both Twitter and the New York Times last week, leaving the Times’ web content inaccessible for several hours. The pro-regime but somewhat mysterious hacker group also reportedly took control of a recruiting website for the US Marine Corps. Following these attacks the hacker collective Anonymous leaked personal data that allegedly identified the core leadership of the SEA. The Guardian has developed a interactive timeline of the SEA’s attacks.

Pro-Palestinian hackers took over Google Palestine by temporarily redirecting users to a defaced site, “Google Owned,” that called for Israel to be removed from Google Maps.

According to the China Internet Information Center [zh], several Chinese web platforms weathered a series of DDoS attacks, amounting to what some claim was the largest multi-pronged attack the country has ever seen. Affecting sites including Sina Weibo, and the Bank of China’s website, the attacks resulted in a 32 percent drop in traffic.


Indian officials said that the government will soon require its employees to stop using Gmail for official communications. Bangalore-based Internet policy expert Sunil Abraham told the Times of India: “After Snowden's revelations, we can never be sure to what extent foreign governments are intercepting government emails” and noted that use of an official email service will make it “easier to achieve greater transparency and anti-corruption initiatives.”

Facebook announced plans to change its data use policy and statement of rights and responsibilities. The changes make it clear that Facebook incorporates users’ names, profile photos and ‘likes’ into its advertising algorithms. They also indicate that Facebook will collect information about the device and IP address you use when you connect to Facebook. In a blog post published on August 29, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan described the changes as “proposed updates” and asked users to provide feedback within a week of the announcement. A flood of mostly negative and sarcastic comments follows the post. TechCrunch offers a useful breakdown of the changes.


The Azeri government is increasing pressure on journalists and bloggers in advance of the country’s October 9 presidential election. Al Jazeera reports several newspapers and human rights organizations have reportedly suffered DDoS attacks in recent weeks. Lawmakers have also approved new legislation targeting online defamation that will carry a punishment of up to three years in prison or fines of up to AZN 1,000.


The Nigerian Communications Commission will soon award a consultancy contract for a firm to assist the government in developing surveillance and intelligence-gathering mechanisms. Officials say surveillance will take place under the country's Lawful Interception policy, developed by the NCC in February. Critics say this cannot work, as the policy is still in draft form and therefore does not have legal status.

The South African government continues to make progress in its implementation of a similar policy. Officials plan to centralize the country’s intelligence-gathering capabilities under the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, which authorizes warrantless wiretapping of foreign electronic communications, among other things.

Free Expression

Vietnam’s Decree 72, which requires ISPs to block all content “against Vietnam” or undermining national security, among other things, has now come into effect. Other provisions of the law limit discussion of news and current affairs on social media and blogs, and require foreign Internet companies to establish servers in Vietnam. A group of Vietnamese intellectuals and professionals issued a statement protesting the law. The legislation has also received criticism from the US government and technology companies including Google and Facebook.

The China Internet Conference 2013 [zh] released guidelines for creating a ‘favorable online environment’. These guidelines have been termed the ‘seven base lines’ intended to provide industry and individuals with information about what the government deems acceptable online behaviorOfficials say [zh] the guidelines are intended to quell online “rumors”, but critics argue this is a way to assert more control over online expression.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Google announced that free apps in the Google Play store will now be available for download by users in Iran. Those close to the issue say that Google is the first company to act on changes to US economic sanctions against Iran, which were implemented in May 2013. Unfortunately, observers report that the Play store is now being blocked in Iran.

Facebook released its first Global Government Requests Report, which summarizes government requests for user data it received during the first six months of 2013. “We hope this report will be useful to our users in the ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations,” said Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch. The United States had the highest number of requests – between 11,000 and 12,000 requests involving 20,000 to 21,000 users. The company released some data in response to 79% of the requests. The Indian government had the next greatest number of requests — 3,245 in total.

Cool Things

New cellphone cover the “OFF Pocket” acts as an invisibility cloak for the smartphone by blocking incoming phone signals, WiFi, GPS and Internet connections.

Bloomberg Businessweek gave a rundown of new technologies that can help increase Internet connectivity where there is little, including BRCK (Ushahidi’s “backup generator for the Internet”) and O3b Networks’ satellites.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.



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