Internet Cafe, Hefei, Anhui, China, Jan. 25, 2010
Customers use personal computers at an Internet cafe in Hefei in the Anhui province of China, Jan. 25, 2010. Reuters

GreatFire, a Chinese activist group operating websites that sidestep the country’s strict censorship regulations, faced a severe DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attack Thursday. “We are under attack, and we need help,” the group said in a blog post March 19. “We’ve experienced our first-ever distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. This tactic is used to bring down Web pages by flooding them with lots of requests -- at the time of writing, they number 2.6 billion requests per hour. Websites are not equipped to handle that kind of volume so they usually ‘break’ and go offline.”

GreatFire allows Chinese citizens to avoid the so-called Great Firewall in China. The government censors a great deal of online content from the West.

GreatFire said it believes the DDoS attack took place in retaliation over a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The March 16 piece discussed “an escalating battle between China’s increasingly active Internet censors and the free-speech activists determined to thwart them.”

“This attack affects all of our mirror websites,” GreatFire said. “While we have talked openly about our method of using collateral freedom to unblock websites and mobile apps that have been blocked by the Chinese authorities, the WSJ story clearly stated how the strategy works and how it is being used successfully to deliver uncensored content into China. Blocked websites that we have liberated in China include Boxun, Deutsche Welle and Google.”

The financial impact of the attack has been significant, GreatFire said, claiming that the growing data requests cost as much as $30,000 per day. GreatFire said it upgraded to faster servers to manage the load.