On the 25th anniversary of the internet in the Philippines, alternative media groups filed a case against the cyber-attacks that they have experienced since December.
Bulatlat, Kodao, Pinoy Weekly, and the Altermidya People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) identified two companies that they believe are the main source of the extreme cyber-attacks against their websites.
They filed a case at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court against the IP Converge Data Service, Inc. and Suniway Group of Companies.
The cases filed included names of officers from both identified companies:
IP Converge Data Services
Suniway Group of Companies
|· Ernesto R. Alberto
· Nerissa S. Ramos
· Anabelle L. Chua
· Juan Victor I. Hernandez
· Patrick David R. De Leon
· Sherwin Torres
· Christian Villanueva
|· Rolando O. Fernando
· Julia Mae D. Celis
· Mary Ann F. Recomono
· Jiang Zongye
· Jiang Xingzhong
According to their websites, IP Converge Data Services is the Philippines’ first Cloud Services Provider and the Suniway Group is an internet provider.
In the complaint, the groups averred that “Qurium would thereafter determine that the attacks on the websites of all Plaintiffs, as well as those of alternative newspaper Pinoy Weekly and progressive organizations Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and Karapatan, shared the same attack signatures and were launched from the Philippines using a virtual private network (“VPN”) to mask their locations.”
Qurium was also able to precisely trace the attacks to the locations of IP Converge Data Service, Inc. and Suniway Group of Companies
“The basis of the complaint we filed are the violations on some provisions of the Civil Code of the Philippines, Articles 19 to 21, called abuse of rights of principles. We also call to this case the violations on Article 32, where it is listed rights of the people that the state and private individuals cannot directly or indirectly lest they be held liable for damages,” said Atty. Josa Deinla of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers’, the group serving as counsel for the alternative media groups in this case.
“In these times of censorship, the basic duty of the journalists is to fight. Today is a concrete manifestation of our fight to ensure there is freedom of expression, in particular in our use of the internet,” said UP College of Mass Communication Danilo Arao.
DDoS or DDS?
The alternative groups’ complaint relayed how their websites have been attacked in various instances since December 2018 after posting articles critical of the government or those that expose the government’s hand in various human rights violations in the country, such as the articles on Sagay massacre and killing of peace consultant Randy Malayao.
The complaint stated that Bulatlat’s website began to shut down for varying periods of time since December 2018. The website first “became temporarily unavailable after posting separate reports on the filing of charges against the perpetrators of the infamous massacre of nine (9) peasants in Sagay, Negros Occidental and on the impact of the government’s “Build Build Build” program on urban poor families.”
On 25 January 2019, Bulatlat.com’s website was once again down. Upon referral of Access Now, the editorial staff reached out to Qurium Media Foundation (Qurium), a non-profit organization based in Sweden that provides “technical, infrastructural and human support to media organizations operating in repressive regimes,” including secure hosting for independent media. Qurium admitted Bulatlat.com into its rapid response program on a pro bono basis, and transferred the website to Virtualroad.org, a provider of secure hosting services for independent online news outlets and human rights organizations under threat.
Qurium confirmed the “crazy amount” of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on Bulatlat.com based on its research.
Altermidya received unusual traffic size flooding the site since December 25 last year and this again happened on the third week of January. By February 6, they received a notice of malware on their website and after two days, the website went down. Its hosting provideer Hostmonster closed down its website and email hosting because the website was experiencing DDoS attacks.
Kodao Productions’ website went down on December 26, and again in different periods in January and February. On January 31, its hosting provider Siteground informed Kodao that a“DOS attack on your account detected,” saying that it had “detected an abnormally high number of simultaneous connections” to Kodao.org.
The Pinoy Media Center (PMC) website PinoyWeekly.org suffered cyber-attacks since December 27 last year, after reposting the article Bulatlat posted before their website shut down again. The website was inaccessible for 12 days. After experiencing another website shut down on February, PMC asked help from Qurium, the latter confirmed “after reviewing the traffic logs of Pinoy Weekly we found that they were targeted by the same botnet that attacked Bulatlat, Altermidya and Karapatan.”
The alternative media groups sued for actual damages and attorney’s fees.