Fears grow that cyber attacks are part of conspiracy to derail democracy
The Eleven Media Group was a victim of yet another cyber attack on Saturday night by a hacker group bent on instigating religious hatred and silencing the independent press in Myanmar.
Eleven Media’s English website was defaced by an outfit calling itself the Blink Hacker Group (BHG). The attack was in response to a recent Eleven Media editorial on social-media propaganda and hate speech aimed at inciting religious violence against Muslim communities in Mandalay.
The editorial, titled “Who is behind the conspiracy?”, urged the government to take action against such propaganda.
This is the third cyber attack on the independent Eleven Media Group this year.
“Eleven Media Group strongly condemns this attack. These hackers are well organised and extremely qualified and this is not the first time we have experienced such an attack. We see this a major threat to the independent media in Myanmar,” said New Media chief editor Zaw Ye Naung.
The hackers managed to infiltrate the Eleven Media English website, writing obscene and offensive comments about Eleven Media Group CEO Than Htut Aung and accusing the group of posting slanderous articles about the government. This is not the first time Eleven Media has come under attack by BHG. The self-proclaimed “Black Hat Group” – a term to describe hackers who violate computer security “for little reason beyond maliciousness or personal gain” – has targeted Eleven as well as various other independent Myanmar media sites in the past.
It remains Eleven Media Group’s editorial policy to strongly condemn any hate campaigns that aim to instigate religious conflict against Muslim communities or any other minorities in the name of Buddhism or nationalism.
“The religious conflicts are occurring in Myanmar not because the hatred between Buddhists and Muslims but because of instigation happening behind the scene. This is known to the international community and the Myanmar people, and these anti-Muslim propaganda campaigns are blemishing the country’s image and the image of Buddhism,” said Than Htut Aung.
Aung was recently handed the Golden Pen Award at the 65th World Newspaper Forum held in Bangkok for his contribution to freedom of the press in Myanmar, long-fought for freedoms that these anonymous hackers seem intent on undermining.
In January, Eleven’s Myanmar-language website came under repeated cyber attacks by a hacker group calling itself the Red Army, a combination of six different groups including the Blink Hacker Group, Myanmar Hack3rs, Unite4m, Myanmar Cyber Army, Black Hack Area, Myanmar Cyber Defence Army, and Cyber Vampire Team.
In an interesting twist the Internet Protocol addresses used for these earlier attacks appeared to originate from China and Russia, demonstrating possible foreign complicity in Myanmar’s network of cyber criminals.
There are also apparent links between these groups and anonymous Facebook users who have been spreading hate speech and making personal attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi and other 88 Generation leaders. Names such as Ludu Maung Karlu, a well known pen-name used for government propaganda in the past, as well as Facebook pages such as We Love True are intent on spreading religious extremism and ultra-nationalist views. Both these groups shared the news of Eleven’s hacking within minutes of it occurring. While BHG denied being complicit with the government or any other agencies, questions remain as to who is really behind these militant hacker groups and what their agenda is. These groups are becoming more active in spreading malicious rumours and misinformation under various guises via social media. The fact remains that such attacks are undemocratic in nature and appear intent on repressing Myanmar’s few independent media voices.
“What we see is that these groups are growing more and more active,” says Ye Naung. “Eleven Media is an independent media group and we are pushing for greater freedom of the press and greater transparency. Some people don’t want this,” he added.