Belarus government accused of Internet hijinks

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Hal Roberts at the Watching Technology blog at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society has an interesting report about how the Belarus government seems to be playing dirty tricks on the opposition candidates and media outlets in that country.

Roberts, who monitors access to the Internet and Distributed Denial of Service attacks has been receiving reports of DDoS attacks against a number of media and opposition party sites leading up to Sunday’s election. He points out that a DDoS is the first step any dictator uses to prevent the opposition from building up a following.

There are also reports that the international connections necessary to send securely posted content to places such as Gmail, Facebook and Twitter are being blocked. And the blocking seems to be for all international sites not just ones the government might find offensive.

But just to make sure that the opposition does not get a fair break online, BELPAK, the Belarussian national ISP, apparently was redirecting requests from independent media sites to copies presumably run by pro-government forces and maybe the government itself. (Kind of like a government sanctioned Yes Men.)

That means as people — or news organizations — try to access the opposition parties or independent news media, they are diverted to a fake site that looks like the original. The benefit for the government is that it can remove anything it doesn’t like and no one would be the wiser.

By election day some of the diverting ceased, according the Roberts’ sources.

Why is it important for journalists to know about this?

  1. As with the democracies, the websites of the media and political parties are important tools in getting more information about the campaign.
  2. With few foreign correspondents on the ground in Belarus, the Internet connections to conduct e-mail interviews and to research the campaigns are vital.
  3. Knowing about the hacks and attacks on independent media and political parties helps provide more information about the nature of the government of a country. And knowing the nature of a government helps explain (or put into context) government and opposition statements about social issues and the elections.

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