GreatFire.org, the not-for-profit website designed to highlight online censorship relating to China’s so-called “Great Firewall,” has announced that its mirror websites — set up to circumvent blocks in China — are currently suffering a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
A DDoS overwhelms the target — in this case, GreatFire.org’s mirror websites — with a deluge of data, with the intention of causing the network to crash.
GreatFire.org is presently reporting 2.6 billion requests per hour — 2,500 times more than its usual traffic — and it says it’s just managing to cope, having switched to faster servers and used other techniques to manage the load. However, it adds that it fears “the attack may be intensified at any time.”
China has a long history of blocking online services, and reportedly blocked the whole of Google in the buildup to last year’s 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Back in December, Gmail went dark again too.
GreatFire.org basically monitors blocked websites and keywords in China, and has been doing so since 2011. It also offers solutions such as “mirror” websites for circumventing blocks for those located in China.
Given GreatFire.org’s core raison d’être, one that would presumably raise the ire of the powers that be in China, it’s surprising to learn that this is in fact the first such attack its sites have undergone in its four-year history. GreatFire.org says the attack began on March 17 and affects all of its mirror websites.
Though it asserts that it doesn’t know who or what is behind the attacks, the organization points to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal that reported on how U.S. cloud service providers were facing a backlash from censors in China. The article also talked about how GreatFire.org manages to unblock websites and apps.
Notably, GreatFire.org also points to pressure from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) over the past few months.
[It] publicly called us “an anti-China website set up by an overseas anti-China organization.” We also know that CAC has put pressure on our IT partners to stop working with us.
GreatFire.org is also asking for help — it says that its server costs on Amazon have risen to $30,000 a day (though it doesn’t say what it normally pays). Hinting that it would like Amazon to absorb this cost to support the free-speech cause, the site said:
We need companies like Amazon to be on our side and, more importantly, on the side of freedom of speech. We need you to tell Amazon that you think that freedom of speech is an important issue and that Amazon, as a leading global enabler of the internet, plays an important role in access to information.
The organization has also asked for anyone with expertise in this realm to get in touch to lend their support.