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Harvard Report: DDoS As A Weapon For Silencing Internet Speech

Berkman Center for Internet & Society report looks at breadth and impact of distributed denial-of-service attacks on independent media and human rights websites
A new study by Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society that drills down on DDoS attacks against independent media and human-rights websites found many of these victim sites were also victims of intrusions, filtering, and defacements.

The new "Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Against Independent Media and Human Rights Sites" report, published this week, counted some 140 DDoS attacks against more than 280 different websites in a sampling of the more high-profile attacks that were reported in the media from September 2009 to August 2010. The Berkman researchers found reports of 329 different DDoS attacks against more than 815 sites since 1998.

The researchers built a database of media reports on DDoSes focused on independent media and human rights websites, and surveyed administrators of these types of sites in nine different countries. They also interviewed a dozen admins from sites that had been DDoS'ed about the attacks and how they defended against them.

"DDoS attacks against independent media and human rights sites have been common in the past year, even outside of elections, protests, and military operations. With recent highly publicized DDoS attacks on Wikileaks, and 'Operation Payback' attacks by 'Anonymous' on sites perceived to oppose Wikileaks, we expect these attacks to become more common," the study says.

More than 70 percent of independent media and human rights websites surveyed by the Berkman researchers had been filtered by certain nations, and 62 percent had been DDoS'ed. Nearly 40 percent had been hacked, and 32 percent defaced. Of the DDoS victims, 81 percent also had been filtered or breached or had their websites defaced.

Berkman recommends, among other things, that these DDoS-prone sites swap content management systems with static HTML or powerful caching systems; host their sites on hosting services, such as Blogger, rather than host their own; and work with ISPs to use providers that will best protect sites from DDoS and not remove controversial content unless it's required by law.

A copy of the full report is available for download here.

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