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Liberia calls for international assistance after crippling cyberattack

media Network cables plugged into a server rack Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images/AFP

Authorities in Liberia are seeking the assistance of the US and UK governments to help them secure their internet infrastructure following a crippling cyberattack that brought down 60 percent of the country’s network. The size of the attack against Liberia is cause for alarm, according to Eugene Nagbe, the country’s information minister, who believes Liberia was targeted by hackers because its network was perceived as being weak.

“The scale of the attack tells us that this is a matter of grave concern, not just to Liberia but to the global community that is connected to the internet,” Nagbe told RFI by telephone. “We are actively pursuing the option of seeking assistance from friendly countries like the US and Great Britain.”

Nagbe dismissed reports that the cyberattack took down the entire network, saying that it did not affect the African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine fibre cable that connects the country to the World Wide Web or the Libtelco and Cellcom service providers.

However, the attack was successful in crippling service provider Lonestar MTN, which provides about 60 percent of internet connectivity in the country, according to Nagbe. The company has already deployed a cyber-security specialist to Liberia to investigate what happened.

The internet outage, which lasted for about two weeks and continued until a few days ago, took the form of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, said Nagbe, who was speaking from London. A DDoS attack floods a system with data with the intention of overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources.

Forensic audit

The minister would not confirm reports that the attack was carried out by the so-called "Mirai botnet" which uses a zombie network of compromised devices such as internet-connected digital cameras.

“We are probing to find the exact culprit,” he said.

Neither would he confirm reported figures between 500 and 600 gigabits per second, in terms of the amount of data that was used to attack Lonestar MTN’s network.

“Some of the figures are realistic,” said Nagbe, “but we want to get a full forensic audit before discussing the exact size of the data pumped into our network illegally”.

Nagbe is keen to point out that his country “already has a lot of protection” on its network, insisting that this helped to prevent the DDoS attack crippling the ACE fibre cable or Libtelco and Cellcom providers. But the government is “very, very concerned” that Liberia's internet infrastructure could be attacked in this way, he said.

“Perhaps we were singled out because we were perceived to be a weak link,” said Nagbe. “Also perhaps because they are aware that we are still expanding and developing our own telecommunications infrastructure.”

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