LAHORE: A chain-SMS initiated on Tuesday reached thousands of mobile phone users by Wednesday, urging Facebook members to download and run a bug to help crash the website.
The text message read, “Hello guys, I need volunteers. Please forward this message to as many people as you can. I have made this software to stop the Facebook page promoting the ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ competition. I just need people to run the software with me for a mass attack that will bring Facebook to its knees.” The message ends with the software developer’s email address. If you mail him, you get an auto-reply within seconds that points you to a link with two downloadable files.
The first promises to send ping requests in thousands to Facebook. Abbas Hayat, a software analyst explains, “A ping request is a small packet of data sent to a web server or website to gauge how quickly it responds. It primarily checks for latency.” “If multiple users simultaneously managed to ping one site repeatedly, it can very easily clog it. The webpage crashes and nobody can access it. The overburdened site recovers only after it has replied to millions of pings.” “This is called a ping attack.
If the person is asking users to download a particular software, then once downloaded the software will automatically keep pinging the page,” he added. The second file on the link is an application that promises to repeatedly open the webpage drawmohammedday.com. The developer leaves this explanation, “Every site has limited bandwidth. If it gets a lot of traffic suddenly, the bandwidth congests and the webpage can be effectively taken down temporarily.
However if we keep this up over a period of time, the website can be crashed permanently”. Abbas explains, “Theoretically the advertised attack is possible. But every user who downloads the application needs to leave his/ her computer switched on and have access to a constant internet connection for the attack to be successful.” “Facebook is a massive website and it would require at least a million users to choke up the page. But with the LHC ban on the website until May31, the software will no longer be able to send ping requests until the ban is lifted.” “This venture can continue once the website can be accessed,” he added.
Pakistan currently has 17.5 million internet users.The undertaking is just a speck in the vast pool of responses generated after April 20 when a Seattle based cartoonist created an artwork and posted it on the internet. The message is not the only one of its kind either. The Lahore High Court (LHC) in response to a petition filed by the Islamic Lawyers Movement directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block Facebook until May 31.
China, UAE, Iran and Saudi Arabia have already banned the website. Locally, hundreds of people condemned the contest for the second consecutive day. Students of Fatima Jinnah Medical College (FJMC) held a protest inside their college premises and demanded state action against the websites. Similarly the Insaf Students Federation organised a protest march from Forman Christian College all the way to Muslim Town. Protests were also held at the Liberty Roundabout on Tuesday and Wednesday; the JI women’s wing also protested on Tuesday.
The cartoonist, Molly Norris, thought it would be a good idea to spark a contest to sketch sacrilegious caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Her artwork deemed May 20 as the official ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.’ The contest is a declared response to the death threats sent to two cartoonists who depicted Muhammad (pbuh) in an episode of South Park. That part was partly censored by the producers.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 20th, 2010.