Cyber attacks on Karapatan, alternative media organizations violate people’s rights to freedom of information

Karapatan scored the recent cyber attacks on the human rights group’s website karapatan.org and those of alternative media outlets Bulatlat and Altermidya, as reported by Sweden-based media foundation Qurium.

“Those who hide behind the cloak of anonymity conducting these attacks are cowards. They do not want the facts on the human rights situation out in the open in digital platforms such as ours. This is not only an attack against human rights organizations like Karapatan or media organizations such as Bulatlat and Altermidya - this is an attack on the people’s right to freedom of information,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

On May 17, 2021, a HTTP GET Flood attack, which is a type of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, was launched on the websites, including Karapatan’s, at a peak of 350,000 hits in less than five minutes. On that day, Karapatan posted its statement on the group’s call for the humanitarian release of Caraga peasant leaders Marcela “Silay” Diaz, 59 years old and a stage 4 cancer patient, and Virgilio Lincuna, 70 years old and a stroke survivor suffering from partial paralysis.

On May 20, 2021, another flood attack through user agent AdobeUxTechC4-Async/3.0.12 (win32) was monitored. On that day, Karapatan posted materials related to their submission of cases and recommendations to the Philippine Supreme Court on search warrants and trumped up charges against activists and on the rules on the writs of amparo and habeas data.

“The cyber attacks are meant to either make our website inaccessible, or to probe the strength of the website’s defenses against these forms of attacks,” Palabay added.

Karapatan said that “the only ones who can benefit from such attacks are the powers-that-be that we call out.”

“They are those with billions of intelligence and discretionary funds in their war chest and whom we have relentlessly made accountable through our human rights advocacy in both online and offline platforms. Karapatan strongly condemns this attack as a desperate move by those who have clear contempt on the exercise of people’s rights,” they stated.

In December 2018, Karapatan’s website was subjected to cyber attacks, using several virtual private networks (VPNs). According to Qurium, this kind of attack against Karapatan’s site and other alternative news sites is one of the worst that they have seen in the last ten years that they have been monitoring attacks against civil society online spaces globally. It was a continuous and relentless attack, taking Karapatan’s website offline for nearly a month.

Karapatan expressed support for Bulatlat and Altermidya, who have been at the receiving end of similar attacks. “We stand with journalists of alternative media groups in seeking investigations on these recent attacks. Once again, we thank our partners in Qurium for their support and excellent documentation and analysis of these recent attacks,” Palabay concluded.