The Moroccan militant website Mamfakinch! has come under a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Sunday 31 July, 2011, which blocked the access to its main platform for several hours. The website is now back online.
What is Mamfakinch! and why has it been attacked?
In the wake of the Arab revolutions, a couple of Moroccan online activists launched a militant website on February 17, 2011. They called it Mamfakinch!, which in Moroccan Arabic means “We won't give up!”.
In the six months of its existence Mamfakinch! has attracted a record audience of over a million unique visitors across its two main outlets which comprise an online news portal and a blog. The site's goal, according to its members, is to provide a platform for free expression for opposition voices and pro-democracy activists.
Against the backdrop of the Arab revolutions, Mamfakinch! set about to aggregate, curate and disseminate citizen media material, emulating the work of similar outlets in the region, notably the celebrated Tunisian news portal Nawaat.org.
But as Mamfakinch! readers and supporters have grown in number, so too have its detractors. “The website has gained a lot of popularity in the Moroccan activist blogosphere but we had also attracted a lot of enemies. Attacks against the website have started very early on but they are becoming increasingly aggressive” says this site's co-manager who also explains that the platform is receiving regular threats and countless derogatory comments. [Please note: the Mamfakinch! representatives interviewed in this article wish to remain anonymous].
One video recently surfaced on the internet purporting to show an attack against Mamfakinch!. The site was quick to publish an article [Fr] in which it (very sarcastically) dismissed the alleged attack as “a miserable spoof”.
This Sunday, while the website was securing the exclusive live coverage of the pro-democracy marches and demonstrations being held across the kingdom, access to its main portal was denied. The blockade lasted for several hours before the site again became accessible late in the evening.
According to the site administrators, Mamfakinch! came under a large-scale DDoS attack. “The attack seems to originate from thousands of dynamic IPs localted in Saudi Arabia (!)” says the website's webmaster. The site's server has, in the matter of a few hours, became overloaded with the amount of new automated IPs’ requests.
“The site is now up and running and we have taken measures to insure that such attacks don't happen in the future… although no one can be absolutely sure” says this co-founder of the site who adds that his colleagues, “for obvious security reasons, prefer not to disclose details of the steps taken to secure access to the site.”
Like in Ben Ali's Tunisia
Before the revolution in Tunisia, Morocco was praised for the relative freedom enjoyed by its internet users. But the country is now seeing a surge in attacks against online dissidents, several of whom have had their Facebook or email accounts hacked into. Phishing techniques were probably used to harvest account passwords.
DDoS attacks, infiltration techniques and blockage of dissident domain names were common during the Ben Ali era in Tunisia. Those types of attacks are increasingly becoming commonplace in Morocco. The site of the irreverent magazine Demain Online has not yet recovered from an attack it suffered over a month ago. The website 20Fevrier.com, believed to be related to the pro-democracy movement in Morocco, also came under attack several weeks ago. It has been offline ever since.
“The more they attacks us, the more we learn!”
Paradoxically, in the Arab world, the most experienced activists usually come from the most repressive environments. After a long confrontation with their governments, Tunisian and Egyptian activists have become experts in circumvention tools. This expertise is now being transferred to other countries in the region where militants are learning each day as they struggle against attempts to censor their voices online.
This statement from a member of Mamfakinch! sums up the situation quite well: “The more they attack us, the more we learn! Let them come!”