Over 70 government websites have been targeted this month by cyberattacks believed to have been directed by hackers operating under the banner of Anonymous, a brand adopted by activists and hackers around the world.
Commerce secretary Greg So Kam-leung told lawmakers that no information had been stolen or altered from the official websites, which had been intermittently inaccessible after surges of requests to access them.
By Wednesday, eight men and three women had been arrested by police in connection with the cyberattacks, on suspicion of accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent, So said.
“Attacks launched by the hacker group partly originated from Hong Kong, and partly from other regions outside Hong Kong,” he said.
“Since the group can be joined by any netizen, [the attack] could be originated from all over the world and it is hard to find out their nationalities.”
Internet users identifying themselves as Anonymous hackers issued a warning to the government and police force on October 2 after tear gas was fired at pro-democracy demonstrators in the city.
A number of official sites were made inaccessible on October 3 by distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. During such attacks, website infrastructure is overwhelmed by a huge number of requests to access the site, ultimately making the site inaccessible.
The attacks can also slow down website functionality. But So said the cyberattacks had not impacted significantly on the government’s online services, and emphasised that security had not been compromised.
The website of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily has also been the target of sustained cyberattacks in recent weeks, coinciding with a blockade of its offices in Tseung Kwan O by pro-Beijing protesters.
No group has claimed responsibility for those cyberattacks, which followed similar attempts to make the Apple Daily website inaccessible in June during the Occupy Central electoral reform referendum.
An attempt to block access to the referendum’s online polling system was described by one internet security expert as “the most sophisticated ever”.
So mentioned that some individual local websites had also come under attack, but such actions had not had a “significant impact on the city’s economic activities”.
Police are still investigating those cases, he said.