Alternative media organizations have been targeted by cyber attacks that aim to silence them for their critical news reports against the Philippine government, a court filing revealed Friday. Different organizations have filed a civil case against groups and individuals believed to be behind the cyber attacks on their websites.
In a 28-page complaint, several alternative media organizations including Alipato Media Center Inc, Altermidya-People’s Alternative Media Network Inc, Kodao Productions Inc, and Pinoy Media Center Inc, filed a civil case against IP Converge Data Services Inc and Suniway Group of Companies Inc.
Civil cases were also filed against their officers. Ernesto Alberto, Nerissa Ramos, Anabelle Chua, Juan, Victor Hernandez, Patrick David de Leon, Sherwin Torres, Christian Villanueva, and Cean Archivald Reyes were included in the case against IP Converge Data Services Inc. Furthermore, Suniway Group of Companies Inc’s Rolando Fernandez, Julia Mae Celis, Mary Ann Recomono, Jiang Zongye, and Jiang Xingzhong were also tagged in the complaint.
According to Danilo Arao, a journalism professor from the University of the Philippines and a journalist from one of the plaintiffs, the cases were filed at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
The complaint alleges that the cyber attacks carried out by the respondents are “deliberate and organized.” The groups said the cyber attacks “could not have occurred without being orchestrated and well-funded.”
“The attackers employed a wide array of technological means and methods to conduct various forms of DDoS attacks against Plaintiffs’ websites…. Individual defendants, being private individuals who directly or indirectly obstructed, defeated, violated, impeded or impaired Plaintiffs freedom to maintain publications shall be liable to the latter for damages under Article 32(3) of the Civil Code.”
The local news outlet Bulatlat was the first among the newsgroups that were targeted by the DDoS attack. A DDoS attack or distributed denial of service attack is a form of cyber offense where the victim’s site will be bombarded by traffic that it can no longer support, prompting it to misbehave or not to work at all. Amid the DDoS attack, Qurium, a Swedish nonprofit organization which provides rapid response services to media organizations and civil society groups, provided services to the affected alternative news organizations.
“Qurium’s investigation resulted in the discovery of Defendants IP Converge and Suniway as the sources of attacks,” the complaint read.
According to the report made by Qurium, their response team attempted to contact the Cyber Security Philippines Computer Emergency Response Team and the defendants but neither both of them provided any form of response.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines website was also attacked in early February. The site went down on the night of February 8, after a wave of distributed denial of services (DDoS) attack, and again on February 11. This wave of cyber attacks began in December 2018 which first hit the sites Pinoy Weekly, Kodao Productions, and Bulatlat. Kodao and Bulatlat were hit for a second time on January 25. The 3 are all members of the Altermidya network.
This included a single attack that dropped 468 gigabytes on their site – ten times the 50 gigabytes that brought down another alternative news site Bulatlat earlier, according to NUJP.
In a statement relative to the earlier attacks, the International Federation of Journalists, of which the NUJP is an affiliate said: “The use of DDoS attacks to silence critical voices and opinions is the latest threat to press freedom. Blocking access to information is a violation of people’s rights and weakens democracy. We will stand with NUJP and the media community as they strive for press freedom.”
Amid the DDoS attacks against news outlets in the Philippines, the organizations who were affected by the attacks blamed them to the country’s President Duterte. In a statement during their attack, Altermidya believes that “there is no one else that could be behind these attacks than the Duterte administration itself, which has taken increasingly bold steps to curtail press freedom and the people’s right to know.”
Altermidya added it would not cower in the face of attacks online or offline. The organization said it remains committed to reporting “the truths that need urgent telling.”
NUJP added that their organization would “fight back because we cannot allow you to deprive our people of their right to the information they need to chart their individual and collective futures, we cannot allow you to deprive them of their voice. We will fight back because no less than democracy and our basic freedoms are at stake.”