A cyberattack on Apple Daily's website saw more than 40 million enquiries sent to the site per second during its peak, bringing the system down and blocking normal web users from accessing pages for several hours, the company revealed today.
In a front page story the company blamed the attack on Beijing and said its vast scale would have required several thousands computers running in tandem.
The 'denial-of'service' (DDoS) attack is a commonly used tool by cyberattackers who want to bring down websites.
Often they will harness a network of machines under their control to send repeated requests to a site simultaneously, the volume of which far exceeds the capacity the site's servers can cope with. This results in part of the infrastructure failing, which causes the site to become unavailable to regular users.
Lento Yip Yuk-fai, chairman of the Internet Service Providers' Association, told Apple Daily: “An attack of such a scale would require more than 10,000 computers to launch. It was unlikely to have been launched by ordinary hackers.” He said the instigators would have been "world class" hackers.
Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai Chi-ying laid the blame for Wednesday's attack squarely at Beijing's door.
He said it was evidence that Beijing wanted to silence voices supporting Occupy Central's public vote on options for the chief executive election, to be held from June 20 to 22.
The attack came just days after a website designed to let Hongkongers vote in the poll was brought down by similar tactics.
The popvote.hk website, built by the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University to gauge support for universal suffrage in 2017, received "billions of visits" earlier in the week, sparking fears that the vote would be sabotaged.
Lai said the attack on Apple Daily would not influence the paper's editorial direction, and encouraged Hongkongers to vote in the public poll.
“There is no cause to be afraid. We will carry on with what we have been doing, with multimedia news, instant news…” Lai said.
“Don’t be scared everyone. Come out and vote on June 22.”
Apple Daily has given extensive and supportive coverage to the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign and the public vote on options for the 2017 election.
All of the options on that ballot allow the public in some form to nominate candidates for the chief executive race, an idea strongly opposed by Beijing.
On Tuesday, the website used to coordinate the public vote was also knocked offline by a cyberattack.
Lai revealed that the Apple Daily website had been under attack for the past few days, before Wednesday’s attack led to a “total collapse”.
The Chinese-language newspaper is known for its independent editorial stance and has often been highly critical of the central government.
Last month a senior Next Media executive told the Sydney Morning Herald that HSBC and Standard Chartered had withdrawn advertising from the newspaper under pressure from pro-Beijing officials.
The banks said the advertising was withdrawn for commercial reasons.
In June last year a car rammed into Lai’s home and an axe and meat cleaver were left outside the front gate.
In the same month masked men burned bundles of the newspaper in two separate incidents in Hung Hom and Central.