Activists threaten full-scale 'cyber war' on government

Activists threaten full-scale 'cyber war' on government

Cyber activists last week announced a full-fledged "cyber war" against the government for its refusal to respond to their demands to formally scrap the controversial single gateway proposal.

In preparation for subsequent attacks, a group calling itself “Thailand F5 Cyber Army” is recruiting netizens through online courses aimed at temporarily shutting down government websites — this time for more than just a few hours.

“What we’ve done so far is only symbolic. We want the government to realise the extent to which people are against the proposal,” said a team representative who asked not to be named. “As for serious attacks on the government’s IT system — we haven’t even started them.”

The Information and Communication Technology Ministry last week announced it would abandon the single gateway plan. But the activists said they would continue their campaign until the proposal was formally scrapped by a cabinet order. The government has refused to comment on the planned “cyber war”.

Since the start of the courses last Sunday night, almost 1,000 people have expressed interest in joining the training. However, due to limited spots, the group was able to provide passwords to just over 300 people to join the chat rooms. Classes are separated into basic and advanced levels and take place three days a week.

Volunteers teach participants how to hide their IP addresses using a Firefox web browser and how to install and use an application that automatically refreshes the targeted websites every second. 

The attacks started at the beginning of this month when activists repeatedly refreshed government websites simultaneously, a tactic known as a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), to overload servers and make the web pages slow or temporarily unavailable. 

The government has threatened legal action against those who participate in the cyber-attacks.

On Wednesday night, the deadline the group set for the government to formally drop the project, more than 30 members in the basic level course launched a test attack on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, bringing it down in less than five minutes.

“This demonstrates the higher than expected potential of Thais who love freedom and also the inadequate government IT system,” said the representative. “Instead of limiting our rights and freedom, [the government] should work on upgrading their own system.”

The group announced a “cyber war against the authoritarian government” and reiterated its call to halt the single gateway proposal.

It also announced four additional demands: for political appointees overseeing the project to resign from their positions, to ensure there will be no violation of online freedom outside the judicial system, and to not press charges against anyone involved in the cyber attacks. The premier also must not invoke Section 44 of the interim charter to give amnesty to political appointees overseeing the project.

Although Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he had not instructed any agency to move forward with the project, the group believes that part of the budget has already been allocated for this purpose, which will eventually enable the government to control and spy on online communications.

The group is already accepting volunteers who will keep programmes running on their computers for five days in a row.

Andrew Smith, director of computer forensic services at Orion Investigations Co, said if the internet service provider is unable to suppress the attack, it is likely the website will stay down until the attack finishes. “It is not uncommon for attacks to last several days,” he said.

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