DDoSgemony: Civil Society Websites Under Attack

First, they knocked the newspapers out of circulation by cutting off their access to newsprint. Now, an outbreak of cyberattacks is taking down one critical website after another.

For several days now, a slew of Venezuelan current affairs websites have been under heavy cyberattacks that forced them offline for extended periods of time. Most of them are from independent media outlets (three), but attacks have also targeted two local NGOs and even the Venezuelan Bishops Conference (CEV).

First up, news website CaraotaDigital was taken down for more than 12 hours on March 8th. The following day, fellow news site ElPitazo.com and NGO Provea suffered similar kinds of attacks.

El Pitazo says their site was targetted by two powerful cyberattacks as well in just two days, taking the site offline for 17 hours.

Both Caraota Digital and El Pitazo say they’ve been targeted. Isnardo Bravo, Coordinator-General of Caraota Digital said in a radio interview that there were two attacks against the site this week, first redirecting it to another address and later, knocking it down.

In a statement, El Pitazo says their site was targetted by two powerful cyberattacks as well in just two days, taking the site offline for 17 hours. First, an attack sought to undo the site’s indexing on the Google search engine and then, a DDoS attack that was contained by their tech team.

Cesar Batiz, director of ElPitazo.com, spoke about the cyberattack with Caracas Chronicles: “(The culprits) found a way to hurt us, but in the end they couldn’t penetrate the website”. According to their findings, the perpetrators had very sophisticated means at their disposal. “In previous attacks the source was from Caracas. This time, IP addresses from China and Iraq”.

PROVEA and Accion Solidaria, two local NGOs, were also taken down. Rafael Uzcategui, Coordinator-General of PROVEA confirmed to CC the complex nature of these cyberattacks. “In the case of Accion Solidaria, the site was emptied of all its content and later was taken down”. Uzcategui considers this “the appearance of a new pattern to block the freedom of information”.

PROVEA has been slandered this week in both State Media and hegemony-related outlets for its position of calling the OAS to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Venezuela. For Uzcategui, this campaign comes from the Information and Communication Ministry (MinCI).

Earlier this year, two other local media outlets faced cyberattacks that left them offline for several days: El Cambur (January 30th to February 3rd) and Aporrea (February 16 to 22). In the latter case, it was considered to be a complex DDoS attack which differed from previous incidents:

Weeks before the attack, Mision Verdad posted this column, in which they called Aporrea “an opposition page”.

Previous attacks against Aporrea were launched from given regions, which made it easy to block them by ignoring all connections from such region until the attack was finished. In this case, blocking a high number of regions from which the attacks originated would have meant denying many legitimate users access to Aporrea.

In recent years, Aporrea, once the lynchpin of Chavista media outlets, has distanced itself from the State’s communicational hegemony. Its Editor in Chief, Gonzalo Gómez Freire, is one of the promoters of dissident Chavista party Marea Socialista. Weeks before the attack, Mision Verdad posted this column, in which they called Aporrea “an opposition page”.

On March 11th there were two new cyber-casualties: The Venezuelan Bishops Conference, which was able to return online after a few hours and Guayana newspaper Correo del Caroni, which was forced to shut down its website to avoid greater damage.

For the paper, this is the latest chapter of its struggle against the hegemony, after its judicial and newsprint woes. But the paper has reassured readers on a written statement that “…it will keep reporting what the 21st Century dictatorship wants to silence”.

Batiz told CC that this could be the start of a new clampdown on digital news sites in the country: “The government already controls the traditional media (papers, radio & TV), now it wants to take hold of those alternative news sites (not involved with the communicational hegemony) as well”.

Along with a broader strategy to intimidate journalists and doubling down on the hegemony, we could be witnessing a new stage in the government’s repression against the media and NGOs.