The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Web Architecture Strikes Back

August 7, 2009

Twitter was down for two hours yesterday, assumed to have been the target of a cyberattack. BBC now reports that the target of the attack, which also affected Facebook and Google, was a single individual, Georgian blogger Cyxymu.

“”[The] attack appears to be directed at an individual who has a presence on a number of sites, rather than the sites themselves,” a Facebook spokesman told BBC News. “Specifically, the person is an activist blogger and a botnet was directed to request his pages at such a rate that it impacted service for other users.”

It is still not known who perpetrated the attack or why they may have targeted Cyxymu and his accounts. However, in an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the blogger blamed Russia. “Maybe it was carried out by ordinary hackers but I’m certain the order came from the Russian government,” he said.

The blogger has previously criticised Russia over its conduct in the war over the disputed South Ossetia region, which began one year ago. A previous statement by Facebook said that the attack on the websites where he held accounts was “to keep his voice from being heard”.
Other sites such as Live Journal, where Cyxymu has his blog, were also targeted in the attack on Thursday.

I don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of orchestrating such an attack. But assume for a moment that speculation is correct – that the act was perpetrated by a government to silence its opposition. The event would have seemed to have precisely the opposite effect, as Cyxymu’s dissident blogging has now made world headlines and increased, rather than decreased, his exposure.

Actually, one can hardly imagine that any government’s tactical thinking could be so flawed, as any reasonably informed follower of the relationship between Web 2.0 and transnational politics could surely have predicted this outcome. On the contrary, if we adopt the police investigator’s modus operandi of asking who stands to benefit from the act, one might actually suspect the dissident blogger himself, or one of his sympathists, or even a random hacker aimed at sending a strong message to governments that it’s ineffective to attempt to shut down online political discourse. What better way to pre-empt and turn the tables on government efforts at repression than to stage a repressive act impacting a wide community of users, whose source cannot easily be tracked, and then go finger-pointing?

If it was a government, hopefully all governments will have learned a lesson: web 2.0 is much more useful as a tool of global civil society than as a tool to silence it.

Other theories on whodunnit? Comment away.

+ posts

Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.