I had a conversation with the tech guys that help me out. The scale of the attack this website has been and is being subjected to is far from common. It compares to the worst acts of sabotage the local industry sees for example when someone wants to try to push an online casino off line in cyber wars where a lot of money is at stake.
Sometimes people have difficulty thinking of anything that doesn’t leave blood on the floor as a crime. But make no mistake this was a serious criminal act perpetrated with considerable effort and at substantial cost.
I don’t know if it helps you put things in perspective but in the last 24 hours to the time of publishing this post this site received over 113,300,000 requests for access crippling the infrastructure that provides you with this space to read.
Since 8pm yesterday when it became clear that the website was put down because of a malicious attack, the engineers who help me put up defences that needed several hours before they could succeed in pushing back the assault. It was not before 7.30 this morning that the website started limping back into action on some screens. By lunch-time the website was standing again.
But the perpetrators of this crime had not had enough. In the last 6 hours since 2pm, just fewer than 70 million requests were thrown at the website, almost half of those in the space of an incredibly manic 30 minutes around 3pm.
The new defences put up to protect the site managed to weather that fresh storm.
The attack, in waves, is still on-going. And even as I write this I cannot be sure the website will be up long enough for you to read it.
The simple act of communication between me and you is under assault right now. My freedom to write, but more importantly your freedom to read, to agree or disagree with me, to comment beneath this to say what you think and share that with others: all those are under assault right now.
Who would do such a thing?
As with the more trivial and graver, far, far graver assaults on freedom of speech this country has experienced in the last several months, our oppressors cover their tracks well.
I have filed a police complaint about this crime in a formal communication this morning to the Cybercrimes Unit. I have just got a phone call this evening from someone there saying that I need to walk into a police station to ‘formalise’ my complaint. Because in a country where email communication has been given the force of law since 2001, the police need you to walk into their station in order for them to act on a crime that everyone was made very publicly aware of since yesterday. But hey, such is life.
We know the oppressors cover their tracks well and we are uncertain those whose job it is to read what clues the criminals leave behind have the will to even squint their eyes tight enough.
But as with all assaults on freedom of expression we can guess who benefits from the silence.
Still, I confess this has been an encouraging experience. It is somehow flattering that this website was chosen for this attack. This website is recognised now as a strategic target, a thorn in someone’s side they would rather did not exist at all. I do not think the perpetrators of this crime expected I would not fight back and see the website back up in the shortest time possible. But they did expect that the nuisance factor would continue to wear me down along with the other efforts of attrition like court action, mobilised trolling and whatever else.
The engineers today told me that in some 18 years in the business the only attack of this sort of scale they had known of was one or more suffered by Daphne Caruana Galizia, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. But I confess to some pride that these faceless censors felt I deserved a small fraction of the treatment they meted on her.
I feel that the guilt that I felt and I continue to feel since she was killed – that I too left her to fight alone, admiring her instead of standing by her and in front of her – has proven to be a motivation as useful as any to at least help continue her work of gnawing at the heels of the corrupt. It is too late to do anything for her now. But at least I can be an annoying nuisance to those who were relieved when she was no more.
It was also an encouraging experience because I was not alone. Colleagues in the local press got in touch and offered their on line space if mine proved harder to bring back for a while. Colleagues from abroad realised intuitively the significance of this attack in the context of what they have been seeing happening in Malta.
And readers of this website have shown they understand once more the need of journalism unshackled by party or government, by credit and obligation, and funded and owned instead by readers who do not dose their support by whether they agree with what they read but with their commitment and belief that it is up to us citizens to protect our right to know.
Instinctively readers understood that more protection for the website from cyber-attacks means higher costs to keep it going. Intuitively they contributed for it to go on. Readers – you — understood that the right to know is not something that anyone will grant to you. It is something you must rise to grasp for yourself.
And that moves me. Like you, I’ve been reading the remarks of trolls and people who just say certain things because it gives them sadistic pleasure to do so, criticising me on Facebook because I ask for crowd-funding for this site. It is fine for some to think I should get a job if I want a living because they may not know I had one and I gave it up to do this. It is painful to read comments like the genius who suggested I pimp my mother to pay for the costs. My hands shake while I write that.
When we read this sort of stuff addressed to Daphne we thought she was immune. We admired her as a fearless writer who could take anything in her stride. In admiring the brilliant journalist we forgot to feel the pain of the woman.
But in her last summer last year when I got to know her better she spoke to me of the pain she felt with every harsh message she received. And the fact that she told me about it reminds me of the harrowing loneliness she must have felt. I think she wanted to tell me to make sure that if I was going to get into this blogging thing I would do so with open eyes and know just what to expect.
I think if she had not prepared me for it, I would not have lasted so far. Her sacrifice means that you understand that no one can do this alone. Your guilt too, that it is too late for her now, means that you give your support to people like me, or the people who work at The Shift News, your support and your help even though we do not deserve it half as much as Daphne did when she was here.
The assault of the last 30 hours on this website was bigger than most websites will ever expect in their lifetimes. But this blogger expected this. I had a mentor who showed me the way. And I have readers who have seen this before and this time they are ready to fight back.
In thanking you for your support, I thank her for her example.