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Hacker attacks reported to Swedish police

Swedish IT experts confirmed on Wednesday that a new brand of hacker attack disabled websites for both the Swedish prosecutor's office as well as the lawyer representing the women at the centre of rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Hacker attacks reported to Swedish police

The incident has now been reported to the police.

Shortly after news that the website of the Swedish Prosecution Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten) had been disabled by an apparent hacker attack on Tuesday night, hackers also disrupted the Internet site and email service of Swedish lawyer Claes Borgström, who is representing the women who made the allegations against Assange.

“Our email and website were hacked last night or this morning. We think it’s the same people [who attacked] the prosecutors [website],” lawyer Claes Borgström, who is representing the women told AFP.

The website of the Swedish Prosecution Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten) site was shut down Tuesday, the day that Assange was detained by British police in response to a Swedish warrant but it had been restored Wednesday.

The WikiLeaks site has also come under sustained cyber attack since it began releasing some 250,000 confidential US diplomatic memos on November 28th.

Officials from SITIC, Sweden’s computer emergency response team, confirmed on Wednesday that the attack against the Swedish Prosecution Authority website had all the hallmarks of a hacker attack.

“This was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Technically, we could see that the request load to the prosecutor’s website rose sharply and stayed at a constant and high rate for several hours,” SITIC head Stefan B. Grinneby told The Local.

While Grinneby said that SITIC lacked the same technical data to confirm the attack on Borgström’s website, he added that, based on what he knew, that attack also “seemed to be” a DDoS attack.

“The purpose of such attacks is apparent by the name. It means you won’t be able to communicate with the site during the attack. As to what that lack of service might mean, it’s hard to speculate on,” he said.

According to IT security firm Truesec, which investigated the problems with both websites, the attacks represent a new type of DDoS attack.

“The sites crashed because Swedes on sites like Flashback and other similar (internet forums) offered to have their computers controlled remotely in order to direct traffic to the homepages in question,” Truesec’s Marcus Murray told the TT news agency.

He claimed that the method used for controlling computers remotely was an entirely new phenomenon.

“It’s normal for individual hackers to send traffic. Now several WikiLeaks sympathisers could use their computer without doing anything. This is like a popular movement and contributed to the sites being knocked out,” said Wilander.

Speaking with the TT news agency on Wednesday morning, Borgström said news of the attack “took him by surprise.”

“My first thoughts are with my clients who are two women who have been drawn in to some sort of global political event which they have nothing to do with whatsoever. And now their attorney has been subject to an attack. It’s totally insane and I’m deeply troubled by it,” he said.

Borgström also emphasised his concern that the Swedish investigation into his clients’ rape investigations has been connected to the US’ rumoured interest in Assange.

“I’m disappointed at how easily false rumours can take on such proportions and consequences. Julian Assange is primarily responsible for this development. He could have denied the rumours but he hasn’t; rather, he’d done the opposite,” said Borgström.

Later on Wednesday, the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced it was reporting the hacker attack to the police.

“We’ve now received confirmation that the attack was a coordinated denial of service attack against us. It’s the first time that we’ve suffered one and it’s also the first time we’ve filed a complaint with the police,” Prosecution Authority spokesperson Karin Rosander told TT.

She said the agency takes the attack very seriously because so many people are looking for information about the WikiLeaks’ founder’s case on the prosecutor’s website.

“Many people want facts in the Assange case. This applies to both our Swedish and English websites,” she said.

Editor’s note: the original version of this article quoted John Willander as a representative of Truesec when in fact the quotes come from Truesec’s Marcus Murray. The error has now been corrected.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Sweden must demand that Julian Assange go free

Given Sweden’s involvement in the Assange case, the government’s continued silence over his impending extradition to the US is indefensible, says David Crouch

OPINION: Sweden must demand that Julian Assange go free

I have no personal fondness for Julian Assange. I cannot forgive him for not condemning the torrent of abuse and slander suffered by the two Swedish women who, in 2010, accused him of sexual assault. His treatment of them has been shameful. Assange has continued to protest his innocence and has not expressed any regret for what happened

But that was then and this is now. At stake is something much bigger than the fate of one man and two women. And the Swedish government bears a clear share of responsibility for the outcome. 

Sweden’s prosecutors dropped the sexual assault investigation against Assange in 2017. For more than three years, he has been held in a maximum security prison in London while he has fought extradition to the United States on espionage charges. In April, a British court finally approved the extradition and referred the matter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. 

Today (June 17), Patel gave the green light for extradition; Assange has 14 days to appeal. 

Extradition would be a colossal blow against media freedom. Journalists would fear to investigate US military and surveillance operations around the world. Assange himself faces a lifetime in jail for publishing classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including evidence of war crimes

Many Swedish free speech organisations recognise this. “The information obtained thanks to Julian Assange and Wikileaks is of great public interest. In a democracy, whistleblowers must be protected, not taken to court to become pawns in a political game,” says the Swedish Journalists’ Association. A large number of press freedom and human right organisations have echoed these words, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship, to name but a few.

“Should Assange be extradited to the US, it could have serious consequences for investigative journalism,” says the Swedish branch of Reporters without Borders. “Through the indictment of Assange, the US is also sending a signal to all journalists who want to examine the actions of the US military and security services abroad, or US arms deals for that matter. This also applies to Swedish journalists.”

Last month, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on Patel not to extradite Assange, saying it would have “a chilling effect on media freedom”.  Anna Ardin, one of the women who brought the original accusations of sexual assault, describes the accusations against Assange for espionage as “helt galet” (completely crazy). 

Given Sweden’s involvement in the Assange case, the continued silence from Rosenbad, the seat of government offices in Stockholm, is indefensible. 

For the seven years in which Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he said consistently and repeatedly that he was prepared to face justice in Sweden, but feared extradition to the United States and therefore required a guarantee that this would not happen. His treatment in the UK is proof that his fears were justified. 

As early as September 2012, The Local quoted Amnesty International on this matter: “If the Swedish authorities are able to confirm publicly that Assange will not eventually find himself on a plane to the USA if he submits himself to the authority of the Swedish courts then this will … it will break the current impasse and second it will mean the women who have levelled accusations of sexual assault are not denied justice.”

And yet, throughout, Sweden’s Ministry of Justice kept quiet. Instead, the Swedish Prosecution Authority stated repeatedly: “Every extradition case is to be judged on its own individual merits. For that reason the Swedish government cannot provide a guarantee in advance that Julian Assange would not be subject to further extradition to the USA.”

In 2016, a United Nations panel decided that Sweden had violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It called on the Swedish authorities to end Assange’s “deprivation of liberty”, respect his freedom of movement and offer him compensation. Again, the government itself remained silent, although Sweden’s director-general for legal affairs said that it disagreed with the panel.

Freedom of speech is one of the four “fundamental laws” that make up the Swedish constitution. There can be no excuse now for Morgan Johansson, Justice Minister, not to speak out in defence of Assange’s role as a whistleblower and journalist. 

Imagine if Assange had revealed Russian war crimes in Ukraine and was being held in Moscow’s high security prison? Every Western leader would be up in arms. 

Assange’s wife Stella Moris has Swedish citizenship. Her life, and that of their two children, will be destroyed if her husband, their father, is sent to rot in a US jail.

At this point in time, when Sweden’s independence in global affairs is in doubt owing to pressure from Turkey over its application to join Nato, it is even more vital for the government to break its silence and help bring the persecution of Julian Assange to an end. 

David Crouch covered Julian Assange’s campaign in the Swedish courts for The Guardian newspaper and is among 1900 journalists to have signed a statement in his defence. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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