Philippines Vows to Track Down Hackers who Blocked Govt Website

Dennis Jay Santos and Jeoffrey Maitem
Davao and Cotabato, Philippines
2021-03-11
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Philippines Vows to Track Down Hackers who Blocked Govt Website Filipinos lock arms during a protest in Manila, March 8, 2021.
Reuters

Philippine authorities said Thursday they were pursuing a Filipino activist group that claimed responsibility for hacking into and blocking access to the government’s main website as a protest against alleged human rights excesses by the police and military.

The website, www.gov.ph, remained inaccessible on Thursday night (local time), at least 24 hours after the Cyber PH for Human Rights group had said it pulled off the cyberattack.

“We are confident that we can track down the hackers responsible for the attack because we had previous incidents,” Victor Lorenzo, chief of the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) Anti-Cyber Crime division, told reporters in a briefing. 

The bureau has been monitoring the activities of hacker groups since last year, he said. Investigators, he added, were looking into claims that the groups, which Lorenzo did not identify, had taken files from government databases. 

“One of the motives in hacking websites or defacing websites or doing those attacks is for bragging purposes or, of course, plain and simple hacktivism,” he said. “If they claim to have compromised data bases, we should not take that hook, line and sinker – we have to validate that.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Cyber PH for Human Rights said the cyberattack was a message to President Rodrigo Duterte and his government to stop killing unarmed civilians.

The group called the country’s national security adviser, national police chief and military commander for the southern Luzon region “ringleaders in the killing of unarmed civilians.”

The hack came days after nine people were killed in police and military raids on Sunday that targeted suspected communist insurgents. Human rights groups condemned the operations and said that unarmed leftist activists were the ones who were killed.

EU expresses concern

On Wednesday, the European Union followed the United Nations in issuing a statement expressing concern about the killings during the Philippine raids.

The EU said it welcomed the Philippine government’s announcement that it would investigate the nine deaths.

“Reports on the use of excessive force against unarmed individuals and alleged irregularities in the law enforcement operations have raised concerns,” the European bloc said, adding that ensuring liability should be “in accordance with due process under national courts of law and full compliance with its international human rights obligations.” 

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, called on the EU to give the government “a chance to discharge its obligation” to investigate the raids.

“We are undertaking and discharging the state obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish,” Roque told reporters on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, human rights workers accused the military and police of delaying the release to the families of the bodies of four people who were killed in the raids. The relatives claimed that about 20 police and military officers prevented them from claiming the bodies at a funeral home on Wednesday but eventually relented after a day-long standoff, according to local media.

Meanwhile, leaders of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines leaders ordered its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to speed up deployment of “special partisan units to carry out select technical offenses to punish fascist criminals.”

Hacking history

Onel de Guzman, perhaps the most infamous Philippine hacker, created the ILOVEYOU virus, a malware that copied itself to all addresses in a computer’s Windows-based email service, in 2000. The virus spread worldwide and caused billions in damages.

De Guzman was arrested, but as there were no laws in the Philippines at that time dealing with cyberattacks and hacking, charges against him were dropped. Twenty years later, de Guzman admitted he launched the virus, according to media reports.

In 2016, Paul Biteng, who was identified as a member of the group Anonymous Philippines, was arrested after the allegedly hacked into 25 government websites, including the Commission of Elections site. Four years later, a court in Manila cleared him of the charges, according to media reports. 

Nonoy Espina contributed to this report from Bacolod City, Philippines.

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