‘Islamist cyber-attack’ on French publications proves untrue

19 Jan 2015


Several prominent French news websites remained unavailable  on Friday for several hours in what was initially reported as a cyber-attack by Islamic groups, particularly in view of a warning by authorities of such attacks a day earlier.

However, it emerged later that it the crash is more likely to be due to a technical failure rather than a denial-of-service attack.

It was at first assumed – even by the venerable BBC – that Islamist miscreants had attacked the sites, lashing out in anger at press coverage of the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Le Parisien, L'Express, 20 Minutes, Mediapart, and others were all rendered temporarily inaccessible. Traffic to online shopping websites such as Sushi Shop, was also disrupted

After its return, L'Express blamed as yet undetermined technical problem at Oxalide, the web hosting biz shared by the affected organisations and news websites. 20 Minutes echoed this view.

By lunchtime on Saturday, after normality had been restored, Oxalide ruled out a distributed denial-of-service attack as possible a cause of the outages. "The first facts in our possession allow us to rule out a DDoS external attack," Oxalide's official Twitter account tweeted.

The exact cause of the problem thus remains unclear.

A malicious attack was initially suspected after people claiming to be cyber-jihadists defaced randomly selected, and mostly low profile, French websites in response to threats by website Anonymous to blitz jihadist websites to avenge those slain in last week's terrorist attack in Paris - journalists, police officers, a visitor at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and shoppers in a Jewish supermarket in the capital, were killed by gunmen.

Attacks on French media outlets would signal a dramatic escalation the tit-for-tat attacks between online activists, as well as evidence of far greater capability on the jihadist side than previously imagined.

Freedom of speech is enshrined in the French as in the Indian Constitution – but values and interpretation differ widely between the countries. An attack on several French media outlets that left their websites inaccessible would be more politically and culturally significant than in India.

But earlier reports by The Independent and others that "France's biggest newspapers have been taken offline following the 'unprecedented' hacking of French websites" are wide of the mark.


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