Telegram app once again hit by massive DDoS attack in Asia

13 Jun 2019

The Telegram app. Image: inkytape/Depositphotos

Encrypted messaging app Telegram was hit by a massive DDoS attack in Asia amid huge unrest on the streets of Hong Kong.

Telegram, a messaging app often used by protest groups in nations with significant levels of state surveillance, was once again hit by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in Asia. Users in Hong Kong – where protests over a proposed extradition agreement with China have erupted – have turned to the app to organise demonstrations, but yesterday (12 June) found that the service was down.

At the time, Telegram tweeted saying it was “currently experiencing a powerful DDoS attack” that could affect its users globally, but it now appears as if its servers have stabilised.

“To generate these garbage requests, bad guys use ‘botnets’ made up of computers of unsuspecting users which were infected with malware at some point in the past,” Telegram explained. “This makes a DDoS similar to the zombie apocalypse: one of the whopper lemmings just might be your grandpa.”

Appearing to confirm the attack’s origin, the company’s chief executive, Pavel Durov, said that the IP addresses used were “coming mostly from China”. Durov tweeted: “Historically, all state actor-sized DDoS (200-400 Gb/s of junk) we experienced coincided in time with protests in Hong Kong (coordinated on @telegram). This case was not an exception.”

This marks the second time that Telegram has been affected by a DDoS attack in China, with the last incident occurring in 2015. At the time, according to the Hong Kong Free Press, access to Telegram’s web version was blocked from servers located in Beijing, Shenzhen, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Yunnan.

This was part of a crackdown by the Chinese government on human rights lawyers using the app to communicate “attacks on the [Communist] Party and government”. One lawyer appeared on national TV and was asked to ‘confess’ that “various support activities were planned and organised” on the app.

Both Russia and Iran banned Telegram last year, with their governments demanding greater access to information on users and the encrypted messages being sent on the platform.

The Telegram app. Image: inkytape/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic