Computer hackers supporting China’s Communist government on Friday shut down the website of an anti-Communist group in Washington and disrupted an international online meeting highlighting the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing.
The sophisticated cyber attack against the website of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation took place Thursday and Friday as the group released a video on the massacre and then attempted to hold an online conference involving Tiananmen survivors and other human rights activists, said the foundation’s president, Marion Smith.
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Smith believes the Chinese government was behind the cyber attack.
"I can’t imagine anyone else who could spend the time and resources to do what was done," he said in an interview.
In addition to the web site hacking that included the theft and destruction of online files, the hackers also attacked the Cisco Systems-owned online conferencing service WebEx, which suffered a large-scale outage of service for several hours before service was restored.
A third cyber attack was carried out against the Pew Charitable Trust, which was involved in hosting the foundation’s online conference for some 2,000 people.
An estimated 2 million people worldwide are expected to hold protests on the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre that is marked annually on June 5.
According to foundation officials, the cyber attacks began Thursday with temporary disruption of the Internet service at the group’s headquarters on New Jersey Avenue in Northeast Washington.
Then on Friday, the cyber attacks accelerated, coinciding with the release of an online video on the Tiananmen massacre, when Chinese communist leaders called in military forces to crush thousands of pro-democracy protesters who had camped out in Beijing’s main square.
China’s communist government has never admitted to killing hundreds of protesters and executing scores more afterward.
The hackers flooded the conferencing service with calls in what is known as a denial of service attack during a private teleconference Friday.
The attack knocked out the conference of some 30 representatives from Hong Kong, Germany, France, Australia, and the United States who were preparing for a larger online conference that was to follow.
The foundation website remained shut down as of Friday afternoon as technicians attempted to restore service.
Smith said the FBI, which investigates domestic cyber attacks, was notified and said they were conducting a preliminary investigation.
The conference was able to continue by using cell phones and live-streaming on Facebook, he said.
"We will continue to try to establish a record and the facts about what occurred in May and June of 1989 in China," Smith said. "It is a secret so terrible that groups will go to great lengths to prevent us from exercising our right of association and free speech here in Washington."
Smith said his group has preserved records and taken steps to assist the FBI with its investigation.
If the likely Chinese government role is confirmed, the U.S. government should protest the hacking to Beijing, he said.
The U.S. government should take steps against China for attempting to curb American freedoms through such hacking by pro-China entities, Smith said.
The foundation sponsored a candle-light vigil Friday night at the Victims of Communism Memorial, which will include survivors from Tiananmen.
"We’ll continue to remember the victims, seek justice, and we will continue to establish a record of what occurred at Tiananmen in 1989 even as China exercises its state power to erase those events from world memory," Smith said.
An FBI spokeswoman had no immediate comment.