Sri Lanka’s appeal answered anonymously. Should Sri Lanka be worried?

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After weeks of protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government, citizens have been actively asking for international support in various forms, from procurement of medicines to financial support for vulnerable communities. This includes regular appeals to hacktivist groups like Anonymous to get involved by uncovering evidence of corruption and theft of public funds. Now a video circulating on the internet alludes to Anonymous being after the President and the current administration.

The Ghost Squad

The video was posted on April 9th ​​by a channel calling itself The Ghost, also known as The Ghost Squad. The first half revolves around a now-viral Facebook post revolving around an incident where 102 tons of printed material was shipped to Uganda. Already in February 2021, Sri Lankan Airlines has chartered three consecutive flights with 102 tons of “printed material”. According to a Sunday Times report, the airline had declined to disclose details of the flight following an RTI filing.

The avant-garde controversy is then discussed before ending with, “Gotabaya Rajapaksa, you have 12 days to resign.” While the warning may be cryptic, the implications for Sri Lanka could potentially be drastic. Especially considering Ghost Squad’s track record.

For those wondering, the Ghost Squad is a politically motivated hacktivist group affiliated with the larger Anonymous collective. The list of attacks on governments and organizations includes defacing Ethiopian government websites, Donald Trump’s website, UK banks and more. Whether or not Sri Lanka will be the group’s newest entry remains to be seen.

On the other hand, one could question the authenticity of the whole thing. Yes, the video was mentioned on anonymous Twitter. But the Ghost YouTube channel is barely a week old and the content featured is all about the Sri Lankan crisis. The channel’s location is listed as Sri Lanka and the linked Twitter account is only a few months old. So there is a possibility that this could be an attempt by some locals to capitalize on the growing calls for Anonymous to get involved in the country’s situation. On the other hand, literally anyone can claim to be part of Anonymous and conduct cyberattacks.

Anonymous and Sri Lanka: On Dangerous Waters

Still, given the current situation, the increasing calls for international hacktivism are not all that surprising. Firstly, the growing pile of politically sponsored allegations of corruption by many highway projects on the Pandora Papers scandal continues to be in the spotlight against the backdrop of #GotaGoHome.

In addition, international coverage of the protests and the country’s economic crisis leaves citizens wanting. Even the behavior of Sri Lanka’s own state media and related institutions has not helped lately. For example, the Ministry of Government Information initially denied the country’s drug shortages, and the state media channel Rupavahini described the recent wave of protests as “mainly by Muslims”.

In such a context, it can be tempting to appeal to Anonymous to intervene. But an attack on Sri Lanka’s digital infrastructure could do more harm than good. The country’s digital infrastructure is already vulnerable, especially at the national level. Incorporating these government websites and systems would essentially limit effective means of communication and services, limited as it may seem in Sri Lanka’s digital space. Furthermore, any restoration or re-creation of such web services would be at public expense.

But to make matters worse, Sri Lanka’s cybersecurity resilience has rarely been good. Back in April 2014, the #OpSriLanka attack by anonymous hackers paralyzed 129 websites in Sri Lanka. About three years later, the President’s website was hacked by a 17-year-old. In February 2021, the LK domain registry itself was compromised. So Sri Lanka is clearly not ready to weather a wave of cyber attacks.

Now, amid another wave of calls for Anonymous’ #OpSriLanka, has the Sri Lankans bitten off more than they can chew?

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