South Africa

DISTRIBUTED DENIAL OF SERVICE

India hits Daily Maverick with malicious cyberattack after report on Modi’s ‘tantrum’

India hits Daily Maverick with malicious cyberattack after report on Modi’s ‘tantrum’
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi gestures at the plenary session during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Gianluigi Guercia / Pool) | iStock

Daily Maverick has been forced to temporarily block website access in India after experiencing a malicious denial of service attack.

Daily Maverick was forced to temporarily block internet traffic from India on Wednesday after a large-scale, malicious denial of service attack caused its site to crash. The attack came only hours after the publication of the South African media company’s report of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to get off his plane on Tuesday.

Daily Maverick’s website received 36.1 million hits (HTTP requests) from Indian servers on Wednesday, following the publication of the article headlined “Tough Love Triangle: While Ramaphosa focused on Xi, Modi threw a tantrum and refused to get off his plane” on Tuesday, 22 August. 

According to officials, Modi refused to disembark from his plane at Waterkloof Air Force Base because South Africa had only sent a Cabinet minister to officially welcome him, Daily Maverick’s Peter Fabricius reported. Eventually, Ramaphosa dispatched his deputy, Paul Mashatile, who left the pomp and ceremony of the China state visit at the Union Buildings and dashed to Waterkloof. 

“About two hours ago, the site suddenly went down. We picked it up very quickly and started identifying a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, and we investigated and found it was coming from a whole host of Indian servers,” Daily Maverick’s security coordinator said on Wednesday afternoon. 

During a DDoS attack, a site is flooded with bot traffic with the intention of taking it down for a period of time, Daily Maverick’s security coordinator explained. 

He said the attack was ongoing, but Daily Maverick had implemented a firewall to temporarily block Indian traffic to protect its site. 

Daily Maverick has been investigating ways to make the article accessible to India, but the attack is so large that it’s proving difficult. 

Consultant on emerging digital threats at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Karen Allen, described the DDoS attack as unfortunate, but said it was “hard to say” whether the attack was directly linked to the story about Modi. 

“There may be sympathisers of Modi who may have decided to act in this way … Diplomacy is now conducted digitally, so what happens in the real world and what happens online can also be intricately interlinked,” Allen said. 

She said it was “premature to start blaming a state actor directly”. 

“The world’s attention is focused on this part of the world because of BRICS … Whenever there is a big event, it is an opportunity for hackers to effectively refine their art,” Allen said.

But while diplomacy is conducted digitally, Allen says so is protest. 

“Anyone wanting to protest the Daily Maverick piece may also resort to those kinds of tactics,” she said. 

Chris Roper, the deputy CEO of Code for Africa, said the cyberattack on Daily Maverick shows that attacks on the media can be at both a reputational level and a technological level. 

While several Daily Maverick reporters have been subject to online abuse and attacks, this is an example of an attack on the company’s online infrastructure.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Section 16’ and violence against women journalists

“The idea here is both to deny access to your news, but also to cost you money,” Roper said. “What it does show is that news sites increasingly need to make sure that they have the right safety measures in place.”

An Indian official source said he did not have the technical knowledge to comment on the allegations that pro-Modi bots might have launched an attack on the Daily Maverick site. He added that the article which allegedly prompted the cyberattack “was a factually wrong story. No basis.” 

A human rights activist in Delhi, who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, was shocked to learn of the scale of the attack, which had forced Daily Maverick to protect its site by blocking internet traffic from India. 

The activist said it is not unusual for the Modi government to block media reports critical of his government, but a DDoS attack of this nature by Indian servers was a new one. In January 2023, India blocked the airing of a BBC documentary that questioned Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Reuters reported. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Narcissism and Autocracy generally go hand in hand; just ask Mr Trump.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    It is obvious that the truth is not well liked by Modi,is there any country that doesn’t have a dirty tricks department?DM showing the way with TRUTH

  • Yahya Atiya says:

    Well Modi is in the same camp as Nutty Yahoo and others. His government routinely engages in human rights abuses across India, and turns a blind eye when Muslim Indians are persecuted by Hindu Indians, stoking the fires and creating more division.
    That he threw a tantrum is hardly surprising, he is a narcissist of note.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    What a 2 year old. How is it that people like this get into power? It is such an indictment on our species.

    • Samantha Vandersteen says:

      I agree with you. When I first read the article, I rolled my eyes in a “not another entitled world leader” thought, but then, it occurred to me – he is the president of a country & no one of any importance came to greet him because RamaNoShow was busy “fan-girling” over the Chinese President & basically forgot about the Indian President. There was only a total of 3 people to meet, this is not difficult to orchestrate, but this type of oversight is quite typical of the ANC after all. If I was Modi I would also feel really disrespected.

  • John Strydom says:

    Ramaphosa had only three presidents to welcome personally, but when you’re sleepwalking I suppose these omissions can happen.

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    Okay, pardon my scepticism, but are you sure that 36.1 million hits, from a country of 1.43 billion people of which 865.9 million are internet “subscribers” (the term includes prepaid internet access), is an orchestrated and malicious action, as you seem to infer? And not that some people in India with a high follower count maybe, you know… shared… your article? Across what timeframe were these 36 million requests spread?

    Also, from my understanding, a properly executed DDoS attack by a well-resourced threat actor would be distributed so widely (likely using a botnet) that it cannot be easily countered by simply restricting access from one specific country.

    • Johan Mynhardt says:

      Yeah, I have to agree with this view. I imagine an article going viral, in a country with such a large population as India would certainly have this behaviour. Everyone would want to see what a publisher has to say about their leader.

      Imagine something similar to what some South African mobile providers have where you can get free internet access when browsing through their network, that would have a concentrated set of IPs, for example. Referrer headers could shine some light on the origins of requests, but I guess DM aready knew that.
      36 million doesn’t sound like a lot when it reached the right social media tags and followers.

    • Duncan Cosser says:

      I’m certain the cybersecurity experts contacted to help investigate the traffic surge would have investigated this and compared the traffic to known historical data, as well as looking at a bunch of other measures that are associated with DDoS rather than regular traffic.

  • Elethu Duna says:

    I think the problem with rhat article is how things were phrased. You can report on something with implying one is throwing a “tantrum”. Or that the other didn’t care about him because he was busy being star strucked and mesmerized by another. News are now reported in a way that illicit a negative reaction, because that how traffic is attracted. News that don’t illicit a reaction are seen as boring.

  • James Francis says:

    These are our new allies, people, freedom-hating bullies and dictators.

  • Shaun Slayer says:

    Try Cloudflare. 😉

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Where is CR’s outrage on the side of press freedom??? Exactly where we know it is – nowhere!
    India, the past masters of rule breaking and discrimination – the country that spawned the Guptas and corrupted the ANC showing us exactly what they are!

  • Brian Cotter says:

    A mynah attack.
    Xi put the boot in completely to India with the China – Africa initiative.
    I thought India was against the Belt and Road circling India and had a competing plan.
    Looking back 2018 – Beijing made clear its growing affinity for other African states connected to the BRI, notably Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti, Ethiopia and other emerging hubs in East Africa.
    Only Ethiopia and Egypt (Suez Canal) made the cut.

  • Karel Vlok says:

    Eish, can you imagine Daily Maverick’s problems when the new members, all a beacon of democracy and free speech, join BRICs?

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    While I wouldn’t expect to know what happens behind the scenes @DM… surely you would want to have this occurrence blasted from every single rooftop, newsstand and screen across the Indian subcontinent. I just checked to see what the Times of India was saying about this – dololo. PR-hunger (as all are these days) is as much an opportunity as it is a variable that could cause problems.

  • William Dryden says:

    And Squirrel accepts this man as part of Bric’s shocking comes to mind. However as they say, birds of a feather flock together.

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