Top Website For Organizing Hong Kong Protests Hit With DDoS Attack

Protesters face off with police outside the Legislative Council Building after a school boycott rally in Central district on September 2, 2019
Photo: Getty Images

LIHKG, one of the most important websites used to organize pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, has been hit with a DDoS attack that temporarily took the forum offline this past weekend. And while no one knows for sure who’s behind the attack, we can take an educated guess. The Chinese government is very unhappy, to say the least, about the protests in Hong Kong that have been raging since June.

The DDoS attack, first reported by Bloomberg News, flooded the website’s servers for hours over the weekend, making it impossible for people to log on. The website reports that “some of the attacks were from websites in China.”

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LIHKG has been a crucial online forum for the protesters, who are demanding democratic rights under the region’s “one country, two systems” arrangement with China. Protesters even conduct polls on the site to settle disputes about tactics in the leaderless protest movement.

“LIHKG has been under unprecedented DDoS attacks in the past 24 hours,” a statement posted to LIHKG reads. “We have reasons to believe that there is a power, or even a national level power behind to organise such attacks as botnet from all over the world were manipulated in launching this attack.”

The website says that they were hit with 1.5 billion requests on August 31 over a 16 hour period and has urged users to switch to the mobile website version of the forum if the smartphone app isn’t working properly.

The Chinese government is believed to have been behind a similar attack on the messaging service Telegram that happened back in mid-June. The people of Hong Kong have been waiting with dread for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to invade the semi-autonomous region, as the military has amassed troops just over the border in Shenzhen. It’s not clear whether the PLA will actually invade, but there have been hints by top government leaders over the past few weeks.

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LIHKG has been vital for the protesters who use the motto, “Be Water,” a reference to staging civil disobedience in one part of Hong Kong to attract attention before dispersing and quickly moving to another part of the city. The tactic forces police to respond in faraway places and the protesters are often gone by the time the authorities arrive. These fast-adapting methods of protest are only made possible through online organizing on services like LIHKG.

YouTube recently dismantled what it called an “influence operation” that may have been operated by the Chinese government to sway western opinion about the protests. Chinese state media have also complained that they’re being discriminated against on U.S.-run social media like Twitter and Facebook, a rather ironic complaint given the fact that mainland Chinese citizens aren’t allowed to access those websites. China’s largest state-run media outlet, Xinhua News, was buying ads on Facebook to smear protesters as violent hooligans before the social media company declared it would no longer take money from the organization.

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Hong Kong’s top politician, Carrie Lam, was caught on audio over the weekend saying that she wished she could quit the job, but was unable. Most Hong Kongers interpreted that to mean Beijing is in control and won’t let her quit. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, took power in 2012 and has done nothing to liberalize the country as some had hoped, instead his regime has delivered strong economic results under tight government control which has kept the wealthy happy.

The young people of Hong Kong realize that this may be their last opportunity to stand up for their rights before Beijing exerts total dominance on the region. And they’ve sworn that they won’t give up.

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All we can say as outsiders is that we hear you, we see you, and we’re with you in spirit. Stay strong, Hong Kong.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog