Ukrainian government websites brought down by hacktivists amid riots

A number of cyber-attacks have crippled several websites associated with the Ukrainian government, after widespread allegations of a brutal police crackdown against peaceful protesters.

The official website of the President of Ukraine, Ministry of the Interior, and the official government portal were crippled in a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

While all the sites are now back online, they were largely unavailable all through Sunday.

The protests arose after the government of Ukraine put a halt to an agreement that would have paved the way for Ukrainian membership of the European Union.

More than a million Ukrainian citizens gathered in the streets of the capital, Kiev, to protest the government's stance. Many banners bore the protest slogan "And today we no longer fight to become Europe, we fight to remain Ukraine."

While the protest appears to have been largely peaceful, some groups of protesters attacked police with chains, fire, and smoke bombs, as well as at one point using a heavy digger to attempt to break police lines. Police used tear gas, light and sound grenades in an attempt to fight off the protesters.

Women, children and even one Reuters journalist were caught up in the violence.

"This Ukraine has never seen," wrote online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).

The clearance of protesters from Kiev's Maidan Square was ostensibly in order to clear the way for the putting up of the traditional Christmas tree in the centre of the square. The clearances resulted in widespread violence, with photos of police beating unarmed protesters with batons and chasing people through the streets circulating on social media.

One of the unlikely heroes of the protest has been a little girl, whose photo went viral over the weekend. The photo show her holding a sign that says "Choke on your Christmas tree".

This is not the first time that DDoS attacks have been used as a form of protest in Ukraine. When popular file-sharing website ex.ua was taken down by a copyright lawsuit in January 2012, widespread protests were joined by cyber-attacks on official sites. At the time, ex.ua accounted for 15-20 per cent of all of Ukraine's Internet traffic.

Before long, protesters were sharing details of how to contribute to DDoS attacks on Facebook, Twitter and Russian-language social network Vkontakte. The target list included websites of Ukraine's President Victor Yanukovych, the pro-presidential Party of Regions, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Parliament, and others.

The Ukrainian government blamed "an increased number of visitors and possible DDoS attacks."

While the stricken websites are now back online, the incident has reminded the world how frequently hacktivism has combined with traditional forms of protest to form a potent cocktail of civil disobedience.

The recent downing of Australian business, government and police websites by Indonesian hackers occurred as a result of allegations that the Australian secret service aided the American national Security Agency (NSA) in spying on Indonesian officials.

Image: Flickr (nessa.gnatoush)