A U.S.-based website that helps activists around the world to support of their causes says it has been targeted by a China-based hacking attack.
The attack comes days after the website put up a petition calling for the release of well-known Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who disappeared into policy custody, earlier this month.
The website Change.org is a platform that allows anyone, anywhere, to launch an online social action campaign. One recent successful campaign in South Africa called on the government to condemn rape against lesbians. More than 100,000 people signed that petition.
Last week, some of the world's leading art museums posted a petition on the site calling for the release of Weiwei, whose petition quickly acquired more than 90,000 signatures.
Founder Ben Rattray says it was not long afterwards that Change.org ran into trouble, specifically from "denial of service" attacks that overwhelmed the website and temporarily shut it down.
"A denial of service attack is a coordinated attack by hackers to use many different servers and IP [Internet protocol] addresses, in certain geographic areas, to make multiple requests, oftentimes hundreds of thousands of requests, in a small period of time, to take down another website," explains Rattray. "The reason we know this originated from China is that all the IPs that were used, the Internet Protocols [addresses] that were used, that accessed the site to launch the attack, were from China."
He says, in the past, governments and individuals have been unhappy with campaigns hosted by his site, but this is the first time it has been attacked in this way . He says he is most concerned that hackers within China can disrupt service for activists around the world who want to organize online.
"It affects the entire site. We have thousands of campaigns running, from hundreds of people and non-profits around the world, Rattray says. "And, all have been equally affected by the attack."
Rattray says his company has been in touch with American authorities about its latest problems, but has not had direct communication with the Chinese government. At the same time, he notes Beijing’s numerous comments about Ai’s case that accuse the international community of meddling in Chinese affairs.
Ai is a prominent Chinese artist who disappeared into police custody in Beijing, earlier this month as he was preparing to board a plane for Hong Kong. Chinese authorities have given Ai’s family no official notice of his detention or what charges he faces.
Chinese officials have said Ai is being investigated for suspected economic crimes, but have given no details. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has had no immediate comment on the latest hacking issue.
Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, who is close to Ai, was released Tuesday after about six days in detention.
Some of Ai’s associates remain in custody, along with dozens of human rights activists and lawyers who have been netted in a crackdown on dissent that began after Internet postings urged Chinese people to hold protests similar to the Jasmine Revolution demonstrations that brought down governments in the Middle East.