MANILA — A group of Filipino hackers praised by the government's anti-insurgency task force as "computer geniuses" is behind the recent cyberattacks on several news websites in the country, a journalists' group said Wednesday.
Len Olea, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said a Sweden-based digital forensics group traced the series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to a group called "Pinoy Vendetta".
"What we know so far is that one of the members (of Pinoy Vendetta) was identified by Qurium [Media Foundation]. He is an IT graduate, and he's based in Davao City. That's just the only information we have now," Olea told ANC's "Rundown".
"We have his name. In fact, Qurium tried to contact him several times through his email and social media platforms, but he refused to reply to any of Qurium's attempt to communicate," she added.
In December 2021, media outfits ABS-CBN News, Rappler and Vera Files were hit with DDoS attacks, Olea said.
The websites of alternative news outfits such as Bulatlat and Altermidya and human rights group Karapatan also became targets of cyberattacks, she added.
Olea, also managing editor of Bulatlat, said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict had lauded the efforts of "Pinoy Vendetta".
In a Facebook post last December, the NTF-ELCAC shared the following statement of its spokesperson, referring to Pinoy Vendetta: "These [people] are organic. These are ordinary Filipino citizens—but of course they're computer geniuses."
This came after the Filipino hackers supposedly took down the website of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front.
When ABS-CBN News was hit with DDoS attack, the same NTF-ELCAC spokesperson, who also serves as Communications Undersecretary, wrote on Facebook, "The same guys behind the takedown of the CPP NPA NDF website for almost a month now. Heroes come in all forms and shapes. My heroes are computer geeks."
DENIAL OF ACCESS
If news websites are hit with cyberattacks, Olea said the first impact is the readers' denial of access.
Newsrooms that rely on online platforms will not be able to publish stories, she said. This is more serious especially with the elections coming up, and with the rampant disinformation and misinformation, she added.
"Another thing is the costly mitigation measures fending off DDoS or cyberattacks in the Philippines is not affordable. Bulatlat, for one, is only fortunate because of the free services provided to us by Sweden-based Qurium Media Foundation," Olea said.
"But when we inquired with IT companies for example here in the Philippines offering DDoS mitigation services, they are not cheap. So, it really requires resources and money to be able to fend off attacks," she added.
Olea said NUJP would seek the help of the Department of Information and Communications Technology and National Bureau of Investigation for an "honest-to-goodness investigation".
She said that "in the end, it’s the public's right to know (that) is being violated here."
In June 2021, NUJP also raised alarm after several IP addresses linked to the Department of Science and Technology and the military had allegedly launched a series of cyberattacks against the websites of Bulatlat, Altermidya and Karapatan.
Bulatlat had said the cyberattacks supposedly took place in light of the red tagging by the NTF-ELCAC and other "state agents."
The DOST has denied involvement in the cyberattacks, saying part of its mandate is to assist other government agencies by allowing the use of some of its IP addresses in the local networks of other government agencies.
The Philippine Army, for its part, said it would look into the incident.
The Bayan Muna party-list has filed a resolution urging the House of Representatives to investigate the cyberattacks against media outlets.
The party-list said authorities should investigate the cyberattacks, "especially in this period when the country is facing a very crucial election, in which the public needs credible sources of accurate information."