The China Story website that you are now reading was ready for launching at 4pm Canberra time on 10 August, exactly an hour before an event to announce the China Story Project.

Dr Ken Henry at the launch of The China Story

The China Story website that you are now reading was ready for launching at 4pm Canberra time on 10 August, exactly an hour before an event to announce the China Story Project. At 4:30pm, we removed the password from the site and it went live, ready for Geremie Barmé, the initiator of the Project, to formally launch the Yearbook and website with a presentation. The venue was the main theatre of the Hedley-Bull building on the ANU campus in front of invited guests including faculty and students, interstate guests and visitors, representatives of government and others. The Yearbook was to be launched by Dr Ken Henry, a leading public figure and advisor to the Australian Government who has been charged with drafting a White Paper on ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ (see PDF script or video of Dr Henry’s remarks).

At 4:55pm, the site went down.

We were victims of a DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service attack. This is a simple way that hackers use to disrupt a website; they use code that lets multiple computers access a website, overwhelming the server. This is the type of attack that the hacktivist group Anonymous has used to disrupt the websites of big corporations and other targets and is the most basic act of online hostility. Indeed, and divertingly, earlier in the day the public site of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was object of a DDoS attack. Anonymous claimed responsibility and said, ‘Brothers and Sisters, We will stop the attacks at 10pm Aus. BUT we will never stop watching!’ (See ABC report)

It took about half an hour for our server company to fight back against the DDoS attack. By 4:30pm, Dr Henry’s remarks and Geremie’s speech presenting the China Story Yearbook and website were over. At which point the website flickered back on, and the participants in the event were enjoying drinks, finger food and copies of the Yearbook in the foyer of the Hedley-Bull building.

According to our hosting provider, the DDoS was directed at the IP address of the server, not at any particular domain name, and we had not circulated or advertised the domain name TheChinaStory.org nor our server information before the launch event. We are sharing a server with several other unrelated websites. So it’s highly unlikely the attack was directed at us. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible the attack was directed at us, and the fact that the site is, at the time of writing, neither blocked in China nor being attacked by hackers is strong evidence that we were merely victims of a coincidence, of near-comic bad timing.

But when it comes to Chinese subjects on the Internet, paranoia is a natural reaction to any unexplained coincidence.

An Editorial Afterthought:
It is all but a convention for web or digital launches to go awry. So common are such ‘digital wardrobe malfunctions’ that at our The China Story launch on 10 August, our audience and colleagues were both bemused and indulgent. Fortunately, we had hard-print copies of the Yearbook to offer up as ‘proof of life’. The chief concern about being hacked or restricted in our project is that it would compromise our support for the free and unrestricted exchange of information. Perhaps not believers in the newly proclaimed religion of ‘Copyism’, we do advocate the widest possible (credited) use of our material. – Geremie R. Barmé, 17 August 2012