Hackers in Myanmar have targeted key state websites, including the army’s propaganda page, as part of an online battle with the junta, which has repeatedly imposed internet shutdowns and blocked social media sites.
A group called Myanmar Hackers disrupted websites such as the Central Bank, the military propaganda agency True News Information Team, and the state broadcaster MRTV, as part of a civil disobedience movement designed to prevent the junta from functioning.
“We are fighting for justice in Myanmar,” the hacking group said on its Facebook page. “It’s like a massive protest of people in front of government websites.” One website provided links for protesters to join what appeared to be denial of service attacks.
The online protests came as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Wednesday in some of the largest demonstrations since the February 1 coup.
Drivers blocked key crossings by parking their cars with the hood open on the roads, as crowds of striking bank workers, students, engineers and farmers marched through the streets calling for the release of their electoral politicians.
In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, railway workers prevented the trains from running but were forcibly dispersed at night by security forces who opened fire and injured one person, according to Reuters.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since the military took power, faces two charges, including an accusation that she illegally imported walkie-talkies, and appeared in court via video link on Tuesday. If you are found guilty, this could prevent you from running in future polls.
Authorities have tried to stop the civil disobedience campaign by imposing a ban on gatherings and have arrested nearly 500 people in recent weeks. Arrest warrants have also been issued for six local celebrities, including film directors, actors and a singer, who had encouraged public officials to join the protest. The charges can carry a two-year prison term.
The army has urged public officials to return to work and has threatened to take action against those who do not. At a press conference on Tuesday, a spokesman suggested that the protests would subside and that the majority of the population supported the coup. However, such comments appear to have further infuriated people, prompting a large turnout at Wednesday’s rallies. There are no signs that the strikes are abating.
The army has justified the seizure of power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in the November elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, a claim dismissed by observers. He has promised to hold fair elections, although many are skeptical.
As part of the board’s attempts to stifle dissent, it has prepared a bill that would criminalize many online activities and strengthen surveillance on the Internet. At 1 a.m. Thursday, the military imposed another internet shutdown, according to NetBlocks, a group that monitors internet outages around the world. It reported that internet connectivity had dropped to just 21% of normal levels.
The military has also tried to block social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, which protesters have used to organize. Many have flocked to virtual private networks (VPNs) to try to get around the restrictions. Top10VPN, a digital security advocacy group, reported a 7.200% increase in local demand for VPN in the immediate aftermath of Facebook’s ban on February 4.
Cybersecurity expert Matt Warren of Australia’s RMIT University told AFP that protesters’ efforts to hack government websites were primarily aimed at generating publicity.
“The type of attacks that they would carry out are denial of service attacks or defacement of websites, which is called hacktivism,” he said. “The impact will be potentially limited, but what they are doing is raising awareness.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism