Government Crackdown on
Bloggers and Websites
May 26, 2010
One of many web sites bombarded by
cyber attacks is Bauxite Vietnam (http://www.boxitvn.info/),
launched by activists opposed to bauxite mining by Chinese
companies in the Central Highlands. The site now prominently
features a red box listing five alternate sites, should the web
site be hacked into again, and states: "Dear readers: Hackers
continue to attack the website of Bauxite Vietnam. Our technical
committee has established alternate sites, so if this site is
interrupted, you can try to read us through other sites,
Writer Ha Si Phu's blog and website (http://hasiphu.com/baivietmoi_38.html_)
has been plagued by periodic cyber attacks. In May, authorities
disconnected his internet and telephone service on the grounds
that he had used his telephone lines to transmit
Blogger Ta Phong Tan is a former
police woman who blogs about corruption and injustice in the
Vietnamese legal system. She has been detained and interrogated
by police three times during the last month.
© 2010 Private
Nguyen Hoang Hai, who blogged as
Dieu Cay ("the Peasant Water Pipe") is currently
serving a 30-month prison sentence.
© 2010 Private
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CNN Video: Vietnam's Internet crackdown
The government targets these
internet writers simply because they voice independent opinions,
criticize government policies, and expose wrongdoing. Evidently
the government is worried that these bloggers will reveal the
inside story of government abuse and corruption, and report on
incidents and issues it prevents from appearing in the state
deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch
(New York) - Vietnam has launched a sophisticated and
sustained two-pronged attack against online dissent, Human
Rights Watch said today. The government is detaining and
intimidating independent Vietnamese bloggers while also
permitting cyber attacks from Vietnam to disable websites
critical of the government.
In the past two months, Vietnamese
authorities detained at least seven independent bloggers,
subjecting them to extended interrogations and, in some
instances, physical abuse. This intensified harassment has
coincided with systematic cyber attacks targeting websites
operated by some of these bloggers and other activists in
Vietnam and abroad. The most damaging attacks are deploying "botnets"
- malware disguised as software to support a Vietnamese-language
keyboard - to spy on individual users and to carry out crippling
denial-of-service attacks against websites. The attacks were
confirmed by Google as well as McAfee, a major internet security
"The government targets these internet
writers simply because they voice independent opinions,
criticize government policies, and expose wrongdoing," said Phil
Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"Evidently the government is worried that these bloggers will
reveal the inside story of government abuse and corruption, and
report on incidents and issues it prevents from appearing in the
state controlled media."
Detention of Bloggers
The following are some of the recent incidents in which
bloggers were detained:
May 8, 2010, provincial authorities terminated the telephone
and internet service at the home of Ha Si Phu, one of
Vietnam's best known dissident bloggers. Ha Si Phu's
telephone service was disconnected at the written
instructions of the Bureau of Information and Media, based
on a police investigation alleging that he had used his
telephone lines to transmit "anti-government" information.
Since the beginning of 2010, Ha Si Phu's blog and website
have been plagued by periodic cyber attacks.
- On May 1, police detained two bloggers,
Vu Quoc Tu (also known as Uyen Vu) and Ho Diep (also known
as Trang Dem), at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City
as the couple was boarding a plane to Bangkok for their
honeymoon. The police held and interrogated them for hours
and forbade them from traveling abroad, contending the
restriction was based on reasons of national security.
- On the morning of April 28, Lu Thi Thu
Trang, an internet activist associated with the
pro-democracy group Block 8406, was beaten by police
officers in front of her 5-year-old son. The police then
took her to the police station and detained her for seven
hours, interrogating her and repeatedly hitting her on her
neck and face.
- Another blogger, Ta Phong Tan, has
been detained at least three times during the last month,
the last time on May 9. On April 20, police forced their way
into her home in Ho Chi Minh City, took her to the police
station for interrogation, and later released her. Ta Phong
Tan is a former policewoman who blogs about corruption and
injustice in the Vietnamese legal system. "Just like the
last time [April 13]," she reported on her blog, "I was not
allowed to wash my face or brush my teeth. I was barefoot
and in my pajamas when I was taken into custody."
- On April 17, police detained and
interrogated Phan Thanh Hai - a blogger known as AnhBaSG who
frequently reports on illegal land seizures - and Le Tran
Luat, the defense lawyer for Catholics at Hanoi's Thai Ha
Church protesting government confiscation of church
properties. They were released after several hours of
Attacks on Websites
Meanwhile, both Google and McAfee found that the attacks on
dissident websites facilitated by botnets are primarily coming
from Vietnam. McAfee, which discovered the botnet when it was
investigating the "Operation Aurora" cyber attacks originating
from China earlier this year, stated it believes the attacks on
Chinese and Vietnamese sites are unrelated.
In a blog on March 30, the McAfee chief
technical officer, George Kurtz, wrote: "The rogue keyboard
driver ... connected the infected machines to a network of
compromised computers. During our investigation into the botnet
we found about a dozen command and control systems for the
network of hijacked PCs. The command and control servers were
predominantly being accessed from IP [Internet Protocol]
addresses in Vietnam."
Kurtz continued that "we believe that the
perpetrators may have political motivations and may have some
allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam ... This incident underscores that not every attack is
motivated by data theft or money. This is likely the latest
hacktivism and politically motivated cyber attacks."
Neel Mehta from Google's security team
wrote in his security blog: "This particular malware broadly
targeted Vietnamese computer users around the world. The malware
infected the computers of potentially tens of thousands of users
who downloaded Vietnamese keyboard language software. These
infected machines have been used both to spy on their owners as
well as participate in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS)
attacks against blogs containing messages of political dissent.
Specifically, these attacks have tried to
squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an
important and emotionally charged issue in the country."
A Vietnamese government spokesperson
dismissed Google and McAfee's allegations as "groundless."
But there is evidence that challenges the government's
claims, Human Rights Watch said. Websites that have been
bombarded by hundreds of attacks recently - including the
political commentary website Thong Luan (www.thongluan.org)
and a Catholic website, Dong Chua Cuu The Viet Nam (www.dcctvn.net)
- traced some of the attacks to the IP address for Viettel, a
state-owned telecommunication company operated by Vietnam's
Since all IP addresses in Vietnam are owned and controlled by
state-owned Internet Service Providers (ISP), it is the
responsibility of the Vietnamese government and its ISPs to put
an end to cyber attacks sourced to IP addresses in Vietnam,
Human Rights Watch said.
"The Vietnamese government needs to end the ongoing barrage
of cyber attacks originating from IP addresses in Vietnam, even
if it means shutting down addresses that may have been hijacked
by botnets and are being used fraudulently," Robertson said.
Since September 2009, attacks are known to
have been mounted on more than two dozen Vietnamese websites and
blogs, ranging from sites operated by Catholics criticizing
government confiscation of church properties, to political
discussion forums and opposition party sites, to an
environmentalist site opposed to bauxite mining.
Vietnamese officials have openly admitted
that the government is shutting down websites. At a national
news conference on May 5, Lt. Gen. Vu Hai Trieu, deputy director
of General Department 2 of the Public Security Ministry, proudly
announced to several hundred Vietnamese media representatives
that the department had "destroyed 300 bad internet web pages
and individual blogs."
Sites that are subject to ongoing cyber
attacks include boxitevn.info, blogosin.org, caotraonhanban.com,
danchimviet.com, danluan.org, doi-thoai.com, dangvidan.org,
dcctvn.net, hasiphu.com, minhbien.org, talawas.org,
thongluan.org, viettan.org, ykien.net, vietbaosaigon.com, and x-cafevn.org.
While some of these sites began operating inside Vietnam, the
cyber attacks have forced most to relocate to servers outside of
"This extensive attack originating in
Vietnam shows just how intolerant the Vietnamese government is
to peaceful criticism at home and from abroad," Robertson said.
"Rather than allowing the internet to be used to carry out cyber
attacks, spy on bloggers, and cripple the websites of online
critics, the Vietnamese government should ensure that the
internet remains a vehicle for peaceful expression,
communication, and learning."
Other Repressive Measures
While the DDoS attacks represent a new instrument of
repression, the Vietnamese government has long deployed
firewalls against international news and human rights websites
such as Human Rights Watch, Voice of America, and Radio Free
Asia. In the last six months, firewalls have been extended to
the Vietnamese service of the BBC and to the popular social
networking site Facebook.
In addition, the Vietnamese government
monitors and controls internet expression through an internet
surveillance unit in the Ministry of Public Security, and with
internet surveillance software and strict regulations. Internet
cafe owners are required to obtain photo identification from
internet users, monitor and store information about their online
activities, and block access to banned websites. In April, the
government issued new regulations requiring installation of
internet monitoring software developed by the National
University of Vietnam in computers in all internet cafes in
Hanoi by the end of 2011.
Ministry of Information Circular No. 7,
issued in December 2008, requires bloggers to restrict their
postings to personal content, and bans posting articles about
politics or issues the government considers state secrets,
subversive, or threats to national security and social order.
"These blatant efforts by the Vietnamese
government to suppress free and open debate on the internet is
yet another sad example of the government's hostility toward
free speech and other basic human rights," Robertson said.
Incidents in which internet activists have been harassed,
detained, and jailed during the past six months include:
- May 9: Police arrest blogger Ta Phong
Tan as she leaves a Sunday mass with a friend and detain her
for nine hours. Police also detain and threaten the friend
for "being in touch with a dangerous figure."
8: Provincial authorities terminate the telephone and
internet service at the home of Ha Si Phu, a prominent
dissident in Da Lat.
- May 1: Police detain bloggers Vu Quoc
Tu (Uyen Vu) and Ho Diep (Trang Dem) at Tan Son Nhat airport
in Ho Chi Minh City and forbid them to leave the country.
- April 28: Police detain and
interrogate Block 8406 activists Do Nam Hai and Lu Thi Thu
Trang, as well as Duong Thi Tan, wife of the jailed blogger
Nguyen Hoang Hai (Dieu Cay).
- April 20: Police interrogate Ta Phong
Tan for more than nine hours. The head of a newly opened law
firm receives warnings and is pressured not to hire Le Tran
Luat, the lawyer for the Catholic group, as an assistant in
a newly opened law firm.
- April 17: Police interrogate Phan
Thanh Hai (who blogs as AnhBaSG) for three hours.
- April 15: Officials pressure Le Tran
Luat's landlord to terminate his rental contract.
- April 5: Officials summon a
geophysicist, Nguyen Thanh Giang, for questioning by the
police about his advisory role in the online magazine To
Quoc (Fatherland). Hackers hack and steal the email
address of the editorial board of the website
- April 3: Hackers break into the
internet accounts (including Skype and Yahoo Messenger) of
the blogger Bui Thanh Hieu (who blogs as Nguoi Buon Gio, or
"Wind Merchant"). Ho Chi Minh city police also detained and
interrogated him for a week in early March and for 10 days
in August 2009, after he posted blogs criticizing the
government's policies toward China, bauxite mining in the
Central Highlands, and disputes with Catholics over church
- March 23: Ho Chi Minh City police
detain and interrogate Ta Phong Tan for four days and Phan
Thanh Hai (AnhBaSG) for more than two days.
- March 23: A mob identifying themselves
as "army veterans" harass Pham Hong Son, a physician
formerly imprisoned for his internet writings, at his home
in Hanoi. A member of the mob threatens him, saying, "Stop
writing what you write or we won't leave you alone."
- March 17-19: Police interrogate
editorial members of the online magazine To Quoc,
including Nguyen Thanh Giang; Nguyen Phuong Anh, an
engineer; Pham Que Duong, a retired army officer; and Nguyen
Thuong Long, a teacher, about their roles in the magazine.
- March 4: Police refuse to grant a
passport to a blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who writes
under the name of Me Nam (Mother Mushroom). She was
previously detained for a week in August 2009 for her online
postings criticizing the government's policies toward China.
Local police continue to pressure her to shut down her blog.
- February 5: Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, a
writer and member of the editorial board of To Quoc,
is sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The day of
her trial, three popular blogs - Blog Osin (blogosin.org),
Đan Chim Viet (danchimviet.com), and Minh Bien (www.minhbien.org)
- crash after being hacked. In addition, the email accounts
of Pham Thi Hoai, editor in chief of Talawas blog, and a
blogger-journalist, Huy Duc (Osin), are hacked.
- January 29: An activist writer, Pham
Thanh Nghien, is sentenced to four years in prison.
- January 27: Multi-party activists Le
Cong Dinh, Nguyen Tien Trung, Le Thang Long, and Tran Huynh
Duy Thuc are sentenced to prison sentences ranging from 5 to
16 years for their writings published on the internet and
other peaceful activities.
- January 19: A political discussion
forum, X-café, suffers denial-of-service attacks and is
unable to operate for several days.
- January 13: Police search the house of
the co-founder of the Bauxite Vietnam website, Nguyen Hue
Chi, confiscate his computer, and then interrogate him daily
until January 30.
- December 31, 2009: The Gmail accounts
of Nguyen Hue Chi and of Phung Lien Doan, an important
contributor to the Bauxite Vietnam website, are hacked and
fake letters are sent from both accounts to a large
Vietnamese email list.
- December 27, 2009: A hacker invents an
email very similar to the one used by Bauxite Vietnam's
co-founder Pham Toan and sends out a fake message to a large
email list, alleging internal conflicts among the board of
editors of Bauxite Vietnam.
- December 21, 2009: The websites
talawas.org and boxitevn.info are hacked. Readers who visit
these two websites find identical messages left behind by
the hacker ("Due to technical reasons, Talawas [Bauxite
Vietnam] is closed forever.").