Special Coverage: Kyrgyz Websites subject to unexplained failure and hacking during the Parliamentary Elections

Bishkek, 28 February 2005 (ONI). Websites belonging to political parties and independent media were subject to unexplained technical failures and deliberate hacking during Kyrgyzstan’s recent Parliamentary elections. Researchers from the Open Net Initiative documented a pattern of failures that suggest a deliberate attempt to interfere with the functioning of the Internet during election period.

Attacks included flooding journalist e-mail accounts with large amounts of spam, and spoofing of e-mail from Kyrgyz websites located in the US. Several political websites were deliberately defaced. In one case, a domain address belonging to an opposition group was apparently de-registered as a result of the organization having no legal status under Kyrgyz electoral law.

On February 26th an apparent Distributed Denial Of Service Attack (DDOS) temporarily disabled all websites hosted by major Kyrgyz ISPs (Elcat and AsiaInfo). These ISPs host the websites of many Kyrgyz political parties, media outlets and NGOs. The spike in traffic associated with the failure of Elcat’s and AsiaInfo’s hosting services led upstream ISPs in Russia and Europe to block access to Elcat’s and AsiaInfo’s IP addresses, so that web sites hosted by these ISPs are no longer accessible outside of Kyrgyzstan.

Despite the low penetration of the Internet and cell phones in Central Asia, these technologies are increasingly important in the election process. Civil society actors often to do not have access to the mass media and increasingly turn to the Internet as way of making their message heard. The Internet is also an important source of information and news.

The Internet and cell phones were important to civil society actors during the recent "Rose Revolution" in Georgia and "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. These technologies allowed actors to organize strikes and opposition ultimately forcing electoral re-runs. Awareness of the strategic importance of these technologies has not been lost on some governments of the CIS region. During the October 2004 referendum in Belarus’, there were unverified reports of alleged technical difficulties causing interruptions in cell phone and ISP services during the street protests in the capital Minsk.

Fears that hackers can disrupt the Internet at critical political moments are not limited to the CIS region. During the final week of the 2004 US Presidential election, US ISP blocked access to georgebush.com to requests originating from IP addresses outside of the North America. The US military’s Internet domain (.mil) was also blocked during the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Technical data gathered by Open Net Initiative researchers will be analyzed, so as to seek to determine the cause of the recent failures and investigate the source of attacks. The results will be published in the next two weeks. Unlike neighboring Central Asian states Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz government does not have a history of filtering or otherwise restricting access to the Internet.

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