Social media has given a voice to unheard people in politically repressed countries. The attack that took down Twitter yesterday temporarily silenced a Georgian activist, showing how fragile those lines of communication are.
Yesterday marked the first time a denial-of-service attack left Twitter crippled for hours on end. The attack also had many people’s Facebook profiles slowing to a crawl, essentially cutting off communication across the services.
A denial of service attack happens when a network of computers are used to overwhelm a Web site’s servers. By attacking a site from hundreds of computers, it’s extremely difficult to block the attack.
Twitter has gained popularity in recent months for giving a voice to the people of Iran that exposed election issues in that country. It’s also become a breeding ground for people supporting various humanitarian causes throughout the world.
Apparently not everyone is pleased with Twitter’s use as a political bullhorn. The attack on both sites yesterday targeted one lone anti-Russian blogger according to Max Kelly, Chief Security Officer of Facebook.
Cyxymu is an activist from Georgia that speaks out against Russian oppression openly on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal and Blogger. His pages on each of these sites were the main target of the attack.
Researchers are still tracing the attack to see if they can determine who was behind it. The attackers were either well-organized or well-funded and brazen in openly attacking a lone activist.
However their intentions of silencing Cyxymu by taking down his writing may well have backfired. Staging such a highly-visible attack that silenced Twitter feeds from major news organizations like CNN is only drawing more attention to the delicate situation in Georgia.
It will be interesting to see whether the collective brainpower of the security community can zero in on the perpetrators of this attack. Even more surprising will be if this becomes the first known government-sponsored attack on a social media site.