After the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests across the U.S., cyberattacks on advocacy groups spiked by an astonishing 1,120 times. It’s unclear who is behind the attacks, but they included attempts to neuter anti-racist organizations’ freedom of speech.
The data comes from Cloudflare, a Silicon Valley company that protects a vast number of websites from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, where servers are flooded with traffic to make them inaccessible. As its tech is used by a number of advocacy groups—including Black Lives Matter—Cloudflare saw what was happening around the time of Floyd’s death, caused by a police officer—former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck till the life drained out of him.
Fighting prejudice online
And organizations whose purpose is to fight prejudice went from seeing almost no attacks on their sites to significant attempts to knock them offline. They included nearly 140 million likely malicious requests to load their websites. DDoS attacks see sites swamped with such requests, which mimic a massive number of people trying to get on a site at the same time, clogging up traffic to the page and making it inaccessible.
“Those groups went from having almost no attacks at all in April to attacks peaking at 20,000 requests per second on a single site,” the company’s CEO, Matthew Prince, and its chief technology officer, John Graham-Cumming, wrote in a blog post.
“One particular attacker, likely using a hacked server in France, was especially persistent and kept up an attack hitting an advocacy group continuously for over a day. We blocked those malicious HTTP requests and kept the site online.”
In May, attacks on government, police and emergency services websites were up 1.8 times and 3.8 times on military websites, compared to the figures in April. Last week, the Minneapolis Police Department website was down after a reported DDoS attack.
“We have been listening carefully to those who have taken to the streets in protest to demand justice and an end to structural racism, and believe that their powerful stories can serve as catalysts for real change. But that requires them to be heard,” the Cloudflare chiefs wrote in the post. “Unfortunately, if recent history is any guide, those who speak out against oppression will continue to face cyberattacks that attempt to silence them.”