Under Attack: Avaaz

After suffering a massive attack last week, Dazed caught up with the global campaigning group to find out what the future holds for the 14-million-member network

Ricken Patel

Last week the global campaigning network Avaaz reported that its site had suffered a huge attack. It speculated that “an attack this large is likely coming from a government or large corporation”. Yet no one connected with Avaaz – based in New York with a name meaning “Voice”, taken from the Persian language Farsi – could be sure as to who exactly ordered the attack. Was it Rupert Murdoch, whose businesses have been a long-term target of Avaaz campaigning both online and on the ground? An oil company? An arm of the Chinese government, who had tried to silence them? Whoever it was, as Executive Director Ricken Patel explains, this could be just the beginning...

We have no idea who was behind it, but we've got no shortage of opponents out there – most of our campaigns target powerful groups or individuals

Dazed Digital: Following the “massive attack” on Avaaz last week, can you give us an update about what the latest developments are?
Ricken Patel:
The attack lasted 44 hours. We have no idea who was behind it, but we've got no shortage of opponents out there – most of our campaigns target powerful groups or individuals. We're thrilled that our systems stood up, and our members responded overwhelmingly. As we hoped, our community showed whoever did this that it only made us stronger.
 
DD: Are these attacks growing in size and number?
Ricken Patel: We've definitely seen all kinds of probes, testing attacks, and sophisticated hacking attempts over the years, and we're expecting it to keep arcing up as our community grows in size and impact. Our hosting company, Datagram, said the attack was one of the largest they'd seen, that it was constantly adapting to our defences and very unusually long-lasting, and that it appeared to be coming out of Amsterdam, which they said was known to be a location of some DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service Attack, basically an attack that aims to disallow user access to a site) in this field, suggesting that someone was paying for this. More analysis by Arbor Networks later on suggested the Amsterdam theory might not be the case, however.
 
DD: Avaaz received a huge response from members in terms of donations after a fundraiser that immediately followed the attack. This lead to some members and critics to insinuate that it might have all been a scheme to make money. What do you say to them?

Ricken Patel: The fundraiser was totally sensible. Our site would have been completely disabled for days if we hadn't spent $35,000 just eight weeks ago on improving our DDoS protection. That was just barely enough, and now we're being told that much larger attacks are possible. The fundraiser also asked for support to cover our security needs far beyond DDoS attacks, including security against hacking attempts and even physical security of our staff in places like Lebanon and Russia. This was the first fundraiser of this kind we've done in five years and we probably won't do another one for a while, so we needed to raise enough to cover us for the foreseeable future.

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