Crossroads Asia | Security | Central Asia

Kyrgyz News Site Kloop Interrupted by DDoS Attack

Last week Kloop and OCCRP published a damning report about the giving away of land in a prized public park to Bishkek’s rich and well-connected.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyz News Site Kloop Interrupted by DDoS Attack
Credit: Unsplash

Kloop ruffled the right feathers.

A week after publishing the results of a year-long investigation into the privatization of a large public park in Bishkek, the independent Kyrgyz news outlet Kloop is experiencing a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack which has prevented some readers from accessing the site.

According to Qurium, which hosts the Kloop site, the attack began at 3 a.m. UTC (9 a.m. in Bishkek) on Tuesday, September 29. Qurium, a Swedish non-profit media foundation specializing in digital security, told The Diplomat that the attack was ongoing. Qurium is still working on the case, but suggested the attacker purchased a “service” to take down the Kloop site. Such “stress testing” services are used to test the resilience of a website to a DDoS attack by simulating one; using a service obscures the attacker’s origins. Dozens of waves of attacks on the Kloop site have been recorded by Qurium, which says it has mitigated the attacks.

As of initial writing, Kloop’s website was inaccessible. Later it became accessible with assistance from Qurium, which explained in detail how such attacks mimic legitimate traffic, making it difficult to determine which computers trying to access a site are “good” and which are “bad.” 

While details of who is behind the attack will take time to investigate, Kloop’s troubles seem likely to be linked to its recently released investigation. In partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Kloop’s journalists dug into the handing out of parcels of land in a popular Bishkek public park to 173 people. Most of the land recipients are rich, well-known, and well-connected and received land plots largely for free between 2000 and 2008. Many sold their plots for a healthy profit. Ataturk Park, once known as “the people’s park,” is now home to some of Bishkek’s most expensive villas.

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The investigation, published on October 23, is a damning exploration of corruption in Kyrgyzstan. OCCRP’s website hosts English-language and Russian versions of the investigation while Kloop published in Russian and Kyrgyz.

One of the reporters on the project, Anna Kapushenko, told another Kyrgyz media outlet, Kaktus, that the investigation affects a large number of people now in power. 

For example, a 810 square meter plot was given by the Bishkek Mayor’s Office to Sooronbay Jeenbekov in 2003, when he was vice speaker of parliament. Somewhere between 2003 and 2005 a villa was built on the property, and Jeenbekov sold it in 2010 before becoming governor of Osh province. In October 2017, Jeenebkov was elected president of Kyrgyzstan.

Last week I spoke at a conference at my alma mater, the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, about the future of journalism in Central Asia. The conference, marking the program’s 60th anniversary, asked its panelists to offer lessons for the future. Given free rein to talk about whatever I wished, I closed my remarks by highlighting the OCCRP/Kloop investigation as a bright spot for the region and indicative of what Kyrgyzstan, and Central Asia more broadly, desperately needs more of. There’s a lot of muck to rake through. Technology helps make and spread news in phenomenal ways, but as the DDoS attack illustrates, technology can also be weaponized to take down websites carrying inconvenient reports.

Kloop will resurface. And importantly, their critical report remains available on the OCCRP website.

Update: This piece has been updated to more accurately reflect the situation concerning access to Kloop’s website.