The government of Ecuador claims that the country has come under a broad and concerted cyber attack, with approximately 40 million attempts to compromise web portals connected to public institutions ever since the controversial decision to allow UK police to forcibly remove Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from their London Embassy.
Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technologies Patricio Real told reporters that the wave of attacks began shortly after last Thursday’s arrest of Assange by British authorities. Real said that the attacks “principally come from the United States, Brazil, Holland, Germany, Romania, France, Austria and the United Kingdom, and also from here, from our territory.”
On April 11, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno revoked the diplomatic asylum extended to Asange by the South American nation in 2012. In a legally dubious move, Quito also revoked the Ecuadorian nationality granted to Assange in 2017.
Ecuador’s El Comercio reported that the telecommunications ministry’s undersecretary of electronic government, Javier Jara, claimed that following “threats received by these groups related to Julian Assange”–such as the shadowy network Anonymous–the country began suffering “volumetric attacks.”
Volumetric attacks are a type of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in which servers are flooded with requests in an attempt to overload them with traffic, thus preventing users from accessing the network.
According to AFP, the targets included the foreign ministry, central bank, tax authorities, the office of the president, and a number of other government agencies’ websites. None of the attacks succeeded in destroying or stealing data.
The attacks also come amid the Ecuadorian government’s detention of Ola Bini, a Swedish national and software developer allegedly tied to Wikileaks who was detained last Thursday as he attempted to attend a martial arts event in Japan. Bini, as well as two unidentified Russian “hackers,” are being held for their alleged role in a “hackers’ network” based in the country. Bini, who is accused of having met with Assange 12 times, has also just been accused of playing a role in blackmail attempts targeting President Moreno.
Since 2017, Assange’s relationship with his Ecuadorean hosts sharply deteriorated amid President Lenin Moreno’s attempts to curry favor with international creditors and wealthy governments in the north such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain. Moreno began referring to Assange on various occasions as a “miserable hacker,” an “irritant,” and a “stone in the shoe” of his government.
Last year, the London embassy cut off his access to the internet for alleged political meddling following requests by Quito that he stop commenting on affairs in other countries.
Relations took a strong turn for the worse in March following the release of a batch of documents known as the “INA Papers,” which implicated the president in alleged corruption, including money-laundering, offshore bank accounts and a shell company named INA Investment Corporation that is based in Panama and was used by President Moreno’s family to procure furniture, property, and luxury goods.
It is widely speculated that while Wikileaks has still not been directly tied to the release of the INA Papers, President Moreno was enraged after personal photographs were released showing his opulent private life, including photos of the president enjoying lavish lobster breakfast-in-bed and lobster dinners–imagery considered damning by Ecuador’s electorate especially given Moreno’s prior boasting of a poverty diet of eggs and white rice, which he claimed to regularly eat as he rammed through austerity measures that led to thousands of layoffs in the poor yet resource-rich South American country.
Within Ecuador, opinions have been evenly split about Assange, with the country’s right-wing and centrists supporting the decision to end his asylum while the left and supporters of former President Rafael Correa have considered the move a scandalous act of outright prostration before the “imperialists” of the Global North.
As such, social media reactions to the government’s complaints of “cyber attacks” have provoked both outrage and mockery from the Ecuadorian public, with some social media users thanking Assange for releasing the INA Papers and others claiming that the attacks will serve as a convenient smokescreen for the country’s authorities to further plunder the public coffers of the South American country.
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