Cyber-attacks on karapatan.org

KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
February 17, 2019

KARAPATAN’S OPEN LETTER ON THE RECENT CYBER-ATTACK AGAINST ITS WEBSITE

Dear friends and colleagues,

Karapatan’s website www.karapatan.org has been inaccessible since January 20, 2019. We were careful not to automatically attribute this problem to a possible cyberattack against our web page. However, after much troubleshooting, our website continued to receive an abnormal load of traffic which was more than what the provider can handle. After requesting assistance from Quirum, a Sweden-based non-profit secure hosting provider for independent media and human rights organiztions, to investigate, initial findings show that the signature of the attacks was identical to those of Philippine alternative media groups Bulatlat, Altermidya, and Pinoy Weekly. We, therefore, confirm that the inaccessibility of our website is due to a targeted Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack from a source intent on silencing Karapatan’s platform for online advocacy.

According to Qurium, Karapatan’s website has been monitored by the attackers since November 2018, when information and press statements, an average of three per day, were released by the alliance on various human rights violations. The attacks started on December 26, 2018. The attackers used several virtual private networks (VPNs). The attacker, Qurium says, can be a group of people judging by the number of devices they used. 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 our website offline for nearly a month, bringing us to the conclusion that those who commissioned such attacks have enormous resources and thousands or even millions of funds to spend.

Since it was put online in 2007, Karapatan’s website has become one of the primary sources of data and analysis on the human rights situation in the country. Our website is a space for us to provide information and expose rights violations in the Philippines, to report evidence-based analysis of the deteriorating rights situation in the country, to educate the public with access to internet on the need to promote, protect and uphold human and people’s rights, and to advocate for fundamental societal change. Resources on this website date back to the administration of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the current administration, and information on many cases, which at times do not receive ample attention from authorities, are published in this site. Together with those who support our advocacy, both online and offline, we persevered in maintaining the site, keeping it updated as much as possible, knowing fully well that the victims and their families need all the help and efficiency we can muster.

With this, the only ones who can benefit from such attacks are State forces, 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.

In light of similar attacks against alternative news platforms Bulatlat, Kodao Productions, Altermidya, and Pinoy Weekly and the politically-motivated charges against Rappler’s Maria Ressa, this cyberattack reveals a systematic and devious effort to curtail people’s basic rights to information, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief, both online and offline.

This is an extension of the Duterte government’s attack against human rights defenders and against people’s rights. This year, we have been grappling with the Securities and Exchange Commission Memorandum No. 15 which institutionalizes red-tagging and can seriously hamper the work of organizations through arbitrary and draconian provisions. Prior to this, we have dealt with online threats, banners branding us as “enemies of the State” and outright violations such as killings and arrests perpetrated against our colleagues. Clearly, this is an effort to silence us, but we will not cower.

We stand in solidarity with the Philippine-based alternative media groups who have been subjected to similar attacks. They are among the most reliable partners of people’s organizations in upholding the people’s right to information and freedom of expression.

We thank Qurium and all digital activists who are helping us, as we are back online since February 15, 2019. However, we remain uncertain if our website can withstand future attacks, which is why we call on all our partners among national and international civil society and human rights bodies, members of the media and academe, and human rights defenders to continue this support by providing spaces in your online platforms for statements, reports, and materials released by Karapatan. Amid constant threats of similar online attacks, we enjoin you to #MirrorUs to #FightBack, a solidarity online campaign that we will be launching to enable the release of public information from Karapatan through publication in various websites and social media accounts. You may contact us at karapatan@karapatan.org for further information on this campaign.

Through your support, Karapatan, in all its years of activism and advocacy, has carried on despite numerous attacks directed against the alliance. As we remain vigilant, we will take concrete steps towards exacting accountability and exposing this deliberate and devious web of repressive tools to ultimately silence dissent and critical opinion.

Cristina Palabay
Secretary General
Karapatan