In an ironic twist, the BBC is reporting that its network came under a distributed denial of service attack launched from Iran, the same method used by hacktivists to disable websites used, in their eyes, to stifle free speech.
These techniques include distributed denial of service attacks, the method favoured by hackers to disable websites.
The BBC said on Thursday it was targeted in an Iran-based cyber-attack on March 1. Thought to be a DDoS attack, some parts of the BBC were unable to access their email or other Internet services.
BBC Director General Mark Thompson said the Internet attack “coincided with efforts to jam two of the service’s satellite feeds into Iran.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Iran has often targeted BBC Persian-language news services in the past, jamming satellite signals and harassing BBC staff members and their relatives in Iran.
Reporters Without Borders has released a comprehensive list of the “enemies of the Internet” — countries that have taken steps to stifle web freedom around the world. The list also includes countries that have been declared “under surveillance,” meaning that they are at risk of becoming full-fledged enemies of the Internet if their censorship activities do not cease.
The report focuses on the Arab Spring and how social media can be used as a tool for liberation and revolution, not to just chat with friends and share pictures.
“Online social networks complicate matters for authoritarian regimes that are trying to suppress unwanted news and information,” says the report.
“It was thanks to netizens that Tunisians learned about the street vendor who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid and Egyptians learned about Khaled Said, the young netizen who was beaten to death by police outside an Alexandria Internet café. It was thanks to social networks that Sidi Bouzid and Khaled Said became news stories and went on to become cornerstones of the Arab Spring.”
The list of enemies include North Korea and China, famous for its “Great Firewall,” used to keep Chinese Internet users from visiting sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr. Countries added to the “under surveillance” list include Egypt, Australia and France.
Bahrain was also upgraded from “under surveillance” to enemy status in the report, citing violent crackdowns on bloggers as well as the death of Zakariya Rashid Hassan, who died in custody in Bahrain a week after he was arrested on charges of inciting hatred, disseminating false news and calling for the overthrow of the government in online forums.
The report says that Bahrain has succeeded in creating a news blackout thanks to a combination of technical, judicial and physical censorship methods.
Reporters Without Borders says that the Arab Spring has highlighted the importance and need for worldwide Internet freedom as it provides people with a means to free themselves from oppressive regimes or pressure governments into protecting the rights of their people.
“The Internet and social networks have been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning and circulating information, and as vehicles for freedom. More than ever before, online freedom of expression is now a major foreign and domestic policy issue,” read the report.
Ironically, hacker collectives likes Anonymous have often used DDoS attacks to support the freedom of information, retaliating against websites like PayPal and Visa in defence of Wikileaks, for example. Now, Iran is using the same method but with the intent of stifling the press instead of freeing it.
Other news outlets have suggested, with little evidence, that Iran fields a “Cyber Army” in the Revolutionary Guard in 2010 with the intention of launching cyber-attacks against the US.
Last month, in their “Enemies of the Internet” report, Reporters Without Borders noted that Iranian authorities had devised techniques for blocking ports used by VPNs, a tool that would enable Iranian Internet users to bypass government web filtering.