The Rise of Digital Refugees...
When Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter all went down earlier this month, the apparent cause was Russian hacktivists who were targeting one mere individual.
His blogging name is Cyxymu and he is a professor within the nation of Georgia. He also happens to be a refugee from the Abkhazia region, a territory on the Black Sea disputed between Russia and Georgia. The New York Times recently interviewed him by telephone and reports that he teaches at Sukhumi State University.
Cyxymu represents a new type of political phenomenon... the digital refugee. As it becomes easier to attack stand-alone blogs and websites, and more sophisticated hacking tools are developed, many bloggers and their sites are targeted and forced to relocate or be silenced.
In this case, Cyxymu was targeted because his blog provided a place for refugees from Abkhazia to "exchange memories of their home" by sharing photos and day-by-day accounts of the 2008 conflict from his readers.
The cyberattacks came in two forms. First, the attackers pulled off what is known in hacking circles as a "joe job", sending out a wave of spam around the Web, making it look like Cyxymu was responsible for millions of spam emails and, as a result, getting blocked by junk filters and search algorithms. Second, a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack was launched, using a botnet to take down Cyxymu's Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as Cyxymu's main site itself.
Thankfully, in the end, Google collaborated with Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal and other affected sites to minimize the impact of the attacks - and they should all be given their due for ensuring that other digital refugees' blogs could stay up or at least easily migrate to other platforms.
As censorship techniques and online attacks become more pervasive, it's clear that fundamental Internet freedoms are at stake. In the case of CYXYMU, entire services were knocked offline in order for one user to be silenced. This goes to show how far suppressive groups will go in order to impede on free speech.
As digital refugees become more common in the years ahead, it's important that the Internet and blogosphere continue to provide a venue for their dissident voices to be heard.