Cyber criminals attacks free speech online, report

According to a new study by Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, hackers and other online criminals are increasing targeting Human rights group and campaigners online and are restricting free speech online.

The new report "Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Against Independent Media and Human Rights Sites" shows that distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks were often targeting campaign sites and leaving them inaccessible on the internet. About 62% of the sites surveyed by the researchers said that they have faced DDoS attacks in the last 12 months and 61% said that they had to face unexplained downtime.

A DDoS attack involves hundreds or even thousands of computers flooding a site with requests and thus bringing it down by over loading its system. The centre studies media reports about more than 140 DDoS attacks against more than 280 different human rights and dissident sites in the 12 months during September 2009 and August 2010.

The team also surveyed more than 300 human rights and independent media sites from across the world. They found that there was a high prevalence of attacks against sites in Burma, China, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Mexico, Russia, Tunisia, the U. S. and Vietnam.

Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center and one of the authors of the report said, "Human rights and independent media sites are under constant attack. DDoS attacks make it harder than ever for these groups to keep an online presence."

The centre said that it invited 317 independent media and human rights sites around the world to joint the survey focusing on DDoS attacks. However, only 14 percent, of the sites responded possibly due to the sensitivity of the topic.