Burma sets its sights on online critics

The Web is, for many, a crucial link to the outside world

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Burma’s Saffron Revolution, which saw massive monk-led protests against the military junta and a crackdown that left at least 100 dead or missing. Now, it seems the state has turned its attention online—the junta has reportedly launched a series of Internet attacks on dissident websites hosted outside the country.

Just before the anniversary, at least three websites run by Burmese exiles were crippled by “distributed denial-of-service” attacks that jammed them with fake traffic, reported the Thailand-based newspaper Irrawaddy, one affected outlet. Websites for the Burmese-language newspaper Khit Pyaing (New Era Journal) in Thailand, and the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma, which runs radio and satellite television stations, were also affected. The attacks coincided with increased surveillance at Rangoon’s Internet cafés, and a slowdown of Internet service within the country that rendered it impossible to upload photos or videos, noted Irrawaddy, which continued reporting through a mirror site and blog.

Irrawaddy came back online Monday, but some are fearful that similar attacks could follow. “If the military government has well-trained computer technicians, the exiled media may be targeted again,” said Irrawaddy office manager Win Thu, who supervised the efforts to get back online. “It doesn’t cost very much to carry out such attacks.”

For many Burmese, the Internet is a crucial link to the outside world—for which it also provided a window into the country last year as protests and escalating violence unfolded. “Internet sites based outside the country are one of the few remaining sources of reliable news for Burmese people,” Irrawaddy founder and editor Aung Zaw recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Now it appears not even those sites are safe.” Zaw worries this latest cyberattack could be a sign of things to come: “Over the past 20 years, the battle between Burma’s regime and pro-democratic forces has shifted from the streets to the jungle and now to the computer.”