RSF’s #FreeAssange campaign targeted by spambot attack

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has become aware of an online attack on the #FreeAssange petition and other areas of the RSF website. No data has been compromised and RSF took immediate action to secure its petition tool. The heavy targeting of the #FreeAssange petition suggests a deliberate attempt to undermine the campaign, but RSF is more determined than ever to secure the release of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange and to stop his extradition to the United States.

On 22 September, RSF became aware of an attack on its website on 17 September that particularly targeted the #FreeAssange petition. Tens of thousands of falsified signatures were simultaneously added to the call to #FreeAssange and other areas of the RSF website in a targeted spambot attack.

“This malicious attack is a clear attempt to discredit our press freedom campaigning and undermine our efforts in support of Julian Assange - but it will not work! We are more determined than ever to secure Assange’s release and stop his extradition.” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.

While the origin and precise motive of the attack are unknown, RSF understands that the spambot combined fake derogatory names with real email addresses in a concerted effort to distort campaigns and undermine the legitimacy of public calls for press freedom worldwide. 

RSF took immediate action to rectify the situation and is working to secure the petition tool. The RSF website and database of verified signatories to all global petitions were not breached in any way, and remain completely secure. No data collected in support of these campaigns has been compromised.

Although a large number of false signatures have now been removed from the #FreeAssange petition, 82,000 are real and were verified prior to the spambot attack, in addition to nearly 7,000 signatures on the German version of the petition.

“Now we need your help to replace the false signatures with even more real ones - and we will ensure that the UK authorities cannot ignore tens of thousands of voices. Please keep signing and sharing the #FreeAssange petition!” said RSF Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent.

The spambot attack took place in the middle of Assange’s US extradition hearing, which is expected to continue through 2 October at the Central Criminal Court in London. Despite severe restrictions on observers, RSF has been the only NGO to gain access to the public gallery most days, and will continue to closely monitor proceedings.

At the start of the resumption of the hearing on 7 September, along with Assange’s partner Stella Moris, RSF attempted to deliver the first 80,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street, which refused to accept the petition. Instead, RSF representatives took a huge banner with the 80,000 names to a protest outside the court. RSF will again attempt to deliver the petition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on conclusion of the extradition proceedings.

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Updated on 23.09.2020