Secular Woman Denounces DDoS Attacks; Invites Others to Join

On February 8, Freethought Blogs (FtB), Skepchick, and Feminist Frequency websites were all hit simultaneously with DDoS attacks.  These attacks were targeted, designed to disrupt services, and ultimately to strike a misogynist blow against women; in particular, secular women.

In the simplest terms, a Distributed Denial of Service is when a server or servers are hit with repeated requests with the intention of disrupting normal traffic to their sites or services. They are intentional, they are disruptive and, most of all, they are illegal. While there are many different types of DDoS attacks, fundamentally all are silencing tactics used to take websites down and deny access to ideas, products, and services.  (More information can be found here:

Heina Dadabhoy – Skepchick: When we criticize those who harm and attack us, we are accused of censoring them. Somehow, I have yet to see DDoS attacks carried out against the very dedicated hate sites we are accused of silencing.

FtB, while filled with diverse viewpoints, is a well known atheist/secular blog site that has many blogs and writers that have a social justice standpoint.  Additionally, many haters and detractors have positioned FtB as one of the leaders of social justice within the freethought movement.  Whether or not this is true is not as important as the view of some that it is. For more information on the FtB DDoS please read our interview with Jason Thibeault and his post on the matter.

Ophelia Benson – FtB: Obviously we don’t know who was behind the DDOS attack, and maybe it was just a strange coincidence that FTB was hit along with Skepchick and Feminist Frequency. Maybe, but more likely it was not a coincidence but a deliberate choice. What do the three sites have in common? An annoying concern with equal rights for half of humanity. Such an outrageous distraction from important business must be punished.

Skepchick, another network that was attacked, was founded by Rebecca Watson. Watson is vocal about her feminism and is frequently personally attacked for speaking out about feminist issues.  Skepchick is also composed of multiple writers (including Julia Burke, who is on the SW board––but not writing this article), with a variety of viewpoints and outlooks.  They are a feminist atheist website that also tends to have a focus on social justice––both within and beyond the secular community.  Similar to FtB, in this case, what they actually write about isn’t as important as the space they inhabit for their detractors.

Rebecca Watson – Skepchick: We’ve always known that the hatred, slurs, death threats, and rape threats that we receive online are a concerted effort to silence us, as outspoken women who care about gender equality. The DDoS attempt is just another tool anti-feminists use toward that goal. Anyone who values free and open discourse should think long and hard about the use of all these tactics to stop women from speaking out against injustice.

Finally, Feminist Frequency is a site by Anita Sarkeesian.  Recently, she has been focusing on the depiction of women in video games and is no stranger to harassment and attacks.  She received (and continues to receive) a tremendous amount of financial and other support from the global community.  Feminist Frequency is explicitly a feminist website.

Amy Davis Roth  Skepchick: You can call us names, you can threaten our livelihood, you can photoshop us, you can even dox us in vicious attempts to frighten us into submission and silence. You can hide behind a computer screen and pull the plug on our websites using hacker bullying techniques. But what you can never do is stop us. Freedom, human rights, compassion and equality are on the right side side of history. That, I can promise you. Even if our particular voices from our websites are muffled, others will rise up in our place. Attempts to silence the women and minority groups who wish to be treated fairly, will ultimately be a failure. And these heavy-handed attempts to hush-up the agitators for change only show those who wish to silence and destroy, to be desperate and lesser than those who stand strong and speak loudly with wisdom and compassion. You can turn off one microphone, but voices in unison will continue to rise.

The motive behind this attack is easily discernable by looking at the targets chosen. All three sites are known for their strong feminist voices.  These three entities are conspicuous in what they have in common: outspoken voice for women which have been targeted by detractors.  It fits the pattern of harassment faced by women online, making this DDoS attack just another block in the Ways To Silence Women Online Bingo card.

An image of Eleanor Roosevelt with the quote: The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything that undermines it.

It isn’t just that these sites were targeted in concert.  It is that women are constantly being targeted for harassment, verbal abuse, threats, and more on the internet every day and very little is being done to change the nature of these interactions or to create meaningful legal remedies.While there are some who are working to make this better, (Cyber Civil Rights is one, Secular Woman is another), change is not coming fast enough for the women suffering consequences here and now, especially as the harassers lay claim to more resources.  As we all know, legal remedies are helpful; but what really needs to change is the underlying culture that devalues women and makes harassment and threats acceptable forms of “communication.”

Stephanie Zvan – FtB: What’s interesting to me is not the attack itself. That’s just the script-kiddie version of the attempts to undermine us that happen all the time. This particular offended soul threw packets at us instead of slurs or libel. Big deal. We adjusted to this, like we’ve adjusted to all the rest, and we got on with what we do.

No, the interesting part is that people have decided to use this attack as an excuse to attack us all over again. We note that three sites with feminist content get taken down Saturday night by one type of attack, and the usual crowd says we’re “playing the victim” and being “paranoid”–because attacks of an entirely different sort happened days later to other kinds of sites. It’s almost funny when people who spend that much time attacking feminists try to attack feminists for suggesting people might attack feminists. Almost.

Failing to denounce this new silencing tactic is tacit approval.  Being a bystander, in this case, is not a neutral statement.  Millions are watching; do the right thing.

Interview with Jason Thibeault on DDOS

Jason Thibeault is a blogger at FreethoughtBlogs (FtB), one of three networks with strong pro-feminist voices which were targetted by a DDoS attack this past weekend. We were able to ask Jason some qustions about the effects of the attack and how FtB recovered from it. Jason has a bigger post about it on his blog Lousy Canuck.


MR: How many bloggers on FtB?

JT: Including all the group bloggers and co-bloggers, there are over fifty bloggers with posting rights spread across 35 live blogs — though a few of these blogs are now inactive and are up as archives at the request of the bloggers. We have a diverse talent pool here, tackling a very wide range of subjects.

MR: How long was your site down?

JT: We are basically dodging the attack now, so well that I can't even tell if the attack is still ongoing. We were down for a little less than two hours altogether, broken up into two chunks. Interestingly, the server itself weathered the attack fine — the problem was, our web host's countermeasures to the attack were what actually took us down.

MR: How many hits do you normally get in this period?

JT:I would estimate that the blog network as a whole gets on average 140,000 hits a day. Saturdays are actually normally our lowest traffic day, though, and we only got roughly 118,000 hits that day with the attack. Evidently the existence of the attack stirred interest, however, and once the site was back up, we got a lot of traffic in a spike immediately — lookie-loos, I suspect; rubberneckers. I don't know ultimately how the numbers panned out, but it seems like we only lost about 10,000 hits, not counting that post-attack spike. That's nothing to sneeze at in two hours, mind you. But we're not as prolific as, say, Slashdot, or

MR: How long did it take to get it back up once the attack started?

JT: After the initial attack, our web hosting provider locked us down for an hour — basically, they needed to protect their other clients. When the block was lifted, the attack was still ongoing, and so they blocked it again, this time for four. This might have gone on indefinitely, exponentially increasing the downtime, but we have a rather clever web guy and we had a bit of good luck in how our servers were configured such that we could effectively dodge the attack without our host's intervention. Between the web guy and myself, we probably put about four hours of work in mitigating the situation, analyzing logs and working with the web host.

MR: Is protecting the site in the future going to cost extra?

JT: There's obviously the human cost in hours to fix the issue; we're open to getting better security, but at the moment, we're not incurring any extra costs outside of what they're paying our web guy. I'm sure we're open to it though. I know he and I have already come up with a few things we'd like to implement to shore up security against attacks preemptively, so we're acting less reactively and more proactively.

MR: Any chance at all of finding who was behind it?

JT: There's always a chance. In this specific case, it's likely going to be difficult to track them down, as it appears to have been a distributed attack through some anonymizing services. Though we can easily surmise something about the attacker from the three targets — Skepchick, FtB and Feminist Frequency all went down to a DOS at very nearly exactly the same time, and that can't possibly be a coincidence. I expect someone will brag about it at some point. Maybe they'll even suggest that they're Anonymous, though frankly, any hacker cell can claim that name. I expect most of Anonymous is too busy going after human rights violators to attack people who stand up for those same human rights, no matter how the Venn diagrams between antifeminists and technologically-savvy individuals happen to overlap.