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The 2013 Singapore cyberattacks were a series of hack attacks initiated by the hacktivist organisation Anonymous, represented by a member known by the online handle "The Messiah". The cyber attacks were partly in response to web censorship regulations in the country, specifically on news outlets. On 12 November 2013, James Raj was charged in Singapore court as the alleged "The Messiah".[1]

BackgroundEdit

On 1 June, a new set of web censorship regulations drafted by the Media Development Authority became effective in Singapore. Under the new rules,

websites with at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore every month that publish at least one local news article per week over a period of two months ... will have to remove 'prohibited content' such as articles that undermine 'racial or religious harmony' within 24 hours of being notified by Singapore's media regulator.[2]
During the introduction of these new rules, government officials stated that they "do not impinge on internet freedom".[3]

IncidentsEdit

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Following his hack attack on the People's Action Party's Community Foundation's webpage, Anonymous member The Messiah hacked into the official website of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council, to exemplify the fact that it was very vulnerable to cyber attacks. Site administrators were quick to lock the site and a police report was made.[4]

Upset with "the Government's new licensing rules imposed on websites", a purported member of Anonymous went on to upload a four-minute-long video on YouTube, in which he, wearing the signature Guy Fawkes mask, threatened to "bring down key infrastructure in Singapore".[5] He also urged Singaporeans to don red and black on 5 November, as well as black out their Facebook profile pictures. In the video, he made reference to The Messiah, who he called "one of [Anonymous'] comrades".[5]

The Straits Times news reporter Irene Tham decided to post a critique of The Messiah's video on her blog on the newspaper's official website. The hacker then hit back by hacking into the blog, defacing the report's title with the words "Dear ST [Straits Times]: You just got hacked for misleading the people!". In justification, The Messiah opined that Tham had misconstrued his speech. He also noted that Tham "conveniently modif[ied] the sentence 'war against the Singapore government' into 'war against Singapore'." He enjoined Tham to either apologise within two days or resign from her job, to atone for her "blasphemous lies".[6]

Later on, in an email to Yahoo Singapore, The Messiah said

we reached out to our comrades from other fractions [sic] who together with us performed DNS poisoning on the .gov.sg sites, taking them down for a period of time. But there must have also been some patching that was done as some of our favourite point of entries into their networks seemed to be fixed.[7]

On 3 November, the website of the Seletar Airport was hacked. Its webpage replaced with a black and green background with an image in the middle resembling a skull wearing a hood. The site resumed normal operations 30 minutes after the hack was first noticed.[8]

On 5 November, the Twitter and YouTube accounts of Singaporean entertainer Ridhwan Azman were hacked. According to posts from the compromised account, this was in retaliation for "dissing the legion". Apart from this incident, Anonymous did not carry out any other major activity, contrary to its promise to ignite a massive protest on that date.[9]

Two days later, the hacktivists hacked into and vandalised a subpage on the website of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, following Lee's vow to bring The Messiah and his accomplices to justice.[10] Additionally, the webpage of the Istana was also hacked.[11]

On 20 November, the websites of 13 schools, which were hosted on a single server, were reportedly defaced between 3:30pm to 5pm.[12]

ReceptionEdit

News of the cyberattacks were picked up by disparate news outlets from around the world, including the South China Morning Post,[3] The Huffington Post,[13] Time,[14] The Star,[15] and The Jakarta Post, among others.[16]

Regarding the hacking of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council's website, Member of Parliament Ang Hin Kee dubbed it as "malicious", promising to boost the page's security system.[4]

After the release of the YouTube video, the Government IT Security Incident Response Team immediately released an alert to all the Singaporean government agencies. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore responded in an official statement, "We are aware of the video, and the police are investigating the matter."[5][17] The Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), of which The Straits Times is a subsidiary, promptly took down the blog which was hacked into and filed a complaint to the police.[6]

Singaporean politician and Deputy Chairman of Singapore's Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, Baey Yam Keng, offered, "We do not know what the hacker's capabilities are, so it's important for us to take this very seriously." Bertha Henson, who operates Breakfast Network, a Singaporean news outlet, felt that The Messiah's action would "make the government seem right, that we [independent website operators] are just troublemakers."[18]

Whilst observing counter-terrorism drill Exercise Highcrest, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged to hunt down the team responsible for the cyberattack, stating, "It is not a laughing matter. It's not just anything goes, and you're anonymous, therefore there's no responsibility. You may think you are anonymous. We will make that extra effort to find out who you are."[19]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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