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Hackers target govt websites in cyber spillover from Arakan crisis

A screen-grab (censored) of a Burmese government web page targeted by hackers.

Hackers targeted several government websites this week, according to state media, apparently in retaliation for Burma’s treatment of the country’s Muslim minority, as international attention on the plight of the Rohingya in northern Arakan State intensifies.

The Burmese-language state-run daily Kyemon reported on Tuesday that six government websites had been hacked in a “defacement attack,” including the website of the Central Bank of Myanmar.

The report said some of the websites had been restored, but at least one page did not appear to have been recovered as of Tuesday afternoon.

“HACKED HACKED STOP KILLING MUSLIMS IN BURMA F*CK MYNAMAR STOP KILLONG MUSIMS HACKED BY PR3D4TOR,” read text beneath a banner “Hacked by PR3DATOR” at the URL http://www.dryzonegreening.gov.mm/eng/, a sub-site of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

According to Kyemon, which cited the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ Information and Cyber Security Department, a hack of the Central Bank of Myanmar’s website occurred at 2 a.m. on Monday morning, and the site was restored some three hours later.

However, the Central Bank website, as well as online portals to download PDF copies of state media dailies, could not be loaded on Tuesday afternoon. A message still grafted to the teaser displayed by a Google search for the Central Bank of Myanmar appeared to indicate that the hack originated from Turkey, or at least was claimed by hackers with Turkish ties.

The connection, if true, is not without geopolitical context. Earlier this week the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke out forcefully against the Burmese government’s treatment of country’s Muslim minority, calling it “genocide.”

Attacks by Rohingya Muslim militants on more than 20 police and military posts on 25 August in northern Arakan State set off a fresh military counter-insurgency campaign that has led tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. An earlier attack by the same group, calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, prompted a similar but smaller exodus, amid widespread accusations of human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by Burmese security forces.

The government and military deny that their counter-insurgency efforts have involved any large-scale misconduct.

The Union of UnderGround Myanmar Hackers, a Burmese hacker collective, claimed earlier this week that it had successfully targeted hundreds of websites in Turkey — a move that it said was due to Turkish hackers’ support for terrorism in Burma.

Bilateral tensions in both the cyber and diplomatic realms have gone both ways: On Friday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek issued an apology via Twitter for an earlier post in which he posted graphic images that he erroneously described as coming out of the latest turmoil in Arakan State.    Burma’s government said it had summoned the Turkish ambassador to answer for his deputy prime minister’s mistake.

The trans-national dimensions of the growing crisis in Arakan State were highlighted by Erdogan’s public condemnation as well as several recent protests staged in Jakarta, Indonesia, capital of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Indonesia’s foreign minister visited Burma this week to discuss the Arakan issue.