How PREMIUM TIMES survived massive cyber attacks during presidential election coverage

Premium Times election reporting botnet attack map

Nigeria’s leading investigative newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES, suffered intensive cyber attacks between Saturday and Tuesday while it served the world elaborate live updates about Nigeria’s 2015 presidential and national assembly elections.

The attacks were aimed at blocking genuine readers from the site and, ultimately, shutting down the platform.

On Saturday, March 28, the attackers sustained their brutal attack for an unbroken 23 hours, targeting, simultaneously, both the paper’s main website and its innovative election portal.

“The attackers gave up late Tuesday,” Musikilu Mojeed, PREMIUM TIMES managing editor, said. “Their intention was apparently to stop us from reporting the elections the way we did.”

The paper’s coverage of the elections has drawn praises from around the world, with some analysts saying the innovative and sustained approach adopted contributed in blocking rogue politicians and election officials from compromising the electoral process.

The attacks experienced during the coverage are commonly known as “Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS attacks” and included close to thousand botnet computers across Asia, Europe, America and the Middle East.

The attackers started with SYN flooding at 1.6 Million packets per second before quickly escalating to launch a layer 7 – or application layer DDoS – that lasted 23 hours and peaked at 200 Megabytes per second.

Layer 7 DDoS attacks are one of the most complicated form of attacks. It targets a certain part of a website – such as a button or a post – and repeatedly download resources hoping to exhaust the server and shut the site down. It mimics the normal human behaviour making it difficult to isolate from normal website traffic.

Our investigations traced the attacks to servers in Eastern Europe.

Despite the attacks, the website remained largely alive during the brutal onslaught, serving clean traffic to several millions of genuine readers who followed the elections from all parts of the world.

Long suffering

According to the paper’s editors, PREMIUM TIMES has remained a consistent victim of cyber attacks.

As the paper grew in influence and readership, attackers also revved up their onslaughts.

Lessons learned in the several attacks since 2012 have helped the paper to review its operation and fortify its platform. Keeping the website alive and fending off ruthless hackers have been technically demanding and expensive.

“At first, they launched attacks against us from standard computers in Abuja and Lagos. But they quickly graduated to Eastern Europe and we began receiving intense attacks from Russia and Ukraine,” Mr. Mojeed said.

He added that these same attackers, who came for the soul of the website on Election Day, had earlier launched a two-week long intensive attack to down the website in December 2014.

Mr. Mojeed said the Election Day attacks were not totally unexpected.
“The attacks usually follow a big story,” he said. “But the intensity of the election reporting attacks were shocking. Our team worked round the clock for four days monitoring and mitigating the attacks.”

Hours after the paper announced the launch of its Election Centre, three days before voting started, Nigeria’s secret police, the State Security Service, issued a stern warning to “groups” planning to publish election results ahead of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

Publishing election results as announced by INEC [not ahead of INEC] at polling units across the country was central to PREMIUM TIMES’ live blogging of the presidential and national assembly elections.

It is unclear whether the Nigerian authorities had a hand in the attacks the paper suffered in a bid to stop it from publishing results declared by INEC officials at polling units.

Attack as a service

The botnet that hit the site can be bought as a service in Russian underground forums.

The forum sells a combination of “services” including VPN – Virtual Private Network – services to hide attack locations.

Our investigations revealed that the attacks could cost at least 300 USD per day for basic types against protected sites such as PREMIUM TIMES.

The attack industry comprises of criminals who write viruses that compromise millions of machines around the world to install botnets that are used for the attacks.

Another level of criminals buy time on these compromised servers and re-sell to clients that range from businesses to governments.

Usually, clients seeking to down targeted web infrastructure outsource attacks to criminal organizations that perform attacks as a service.

The criminals, who carried out the attacks on PREMIUM TIMES, appear to have a big part of the infection in Thailand and Vietnam.

“It is not clear who is paying for these attacks, but we are certain they are not doing it for fun,” Mr. Mojeed said.


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  • Gidi

    This has PDP hands written all over it. Kudos to Premiumtimes and Sahara Reporters for doing the unthinkable. Please don’t let your guard down, because they are still coming for you Next week, April 11, 2015.

  • Won l’enu mbe God pass dem

  • Allayes

    It is very clear those behind the attacks. Several Nigerians noticed that some newspaper sites and other sites not that friendly to the government were down just before and during the elections. All these sites came back up after the election. It is just nauseating that some Nigerians decided that this despicable act is warranted, whereas electronic voting is not.

  • the truth

    Why wont u be attacked when u give false news everyday.this story may be a big lie.u said numerous awards? If u mean numerous paid awards. Apc times is a disgrace to journalism

    • Akanji92

      The Real Falsehood, you are still online? Unfortunately your associates like Prince Orafidiya, Oleku, and others have eloped with the remaining GEJ bribe.

  • Wilfred Apah

    @the truth,

    i am in support of these cyber attacks on Premium Times because i hate Islamist Jihad.
    In my veins i am viscerally opposed to ISLAMIC STATE because it fosters bloodiness.
    The cyberspace attacks should continue until Premium Times renounce Islamic Jihad.
    The heart and soul of Premium Times is embedded in the Jihadist Islamist APC party in Nigeria.
    As foot soldiers, we are told it is obligatory for ALL Premium Times editors to wear the Hijab.
    Nobody is allowed to write any news-report in Premium Times without firstly wearing his Hijab.
    Cyberspace attack on such Islamist news organization is justified to save Christianity worldwide.

    • Denrele

      WILFRED THE FANATIC,

      COME HERE. WHERE DID YOU EVER SEE ‘ISLAMIST JIHAD’ IN PREMIUM TIMES?
      SO, IF PREMIUM TIMES SAYS APC WON 60 SENATE SEATS, IT IS ISLAMIC JIHAD?
      BY ABUSING PREMIUM TIMES, HOW WILL THE TRUTH OF THAT FACT CHANGE?
      PLEASE, GO TO A DOCTOR FOR IMMEDIATE CURE OF RELIGIOUS FANATICISM.

  • Patriotique

    This is synonymous with hacking of INEC website. Its a beautiful thing PT scaled through it. Bravo!

  • # Ijaw Nation Decides

    …………….THE KAIAMA DECLARATION ……………

    Based on the foregoing, we, the youths of Ijawland, hereby make the following resolutions to be known as the Kaiama Declaration:

    1. All land and natural resources (including mineral resources) within the Ijaw territory belong to Ijaw communities and are the basis of our survival.

    2. We cease to recognise all undemocratic decrees that rob our peoples/communities of the right to ownership and control of our lives and resources, which were enacted without our participation and consent. These include the Land Use Decree and The Petroleum Decree etc.

    3. We demand the immediate withdrawal from Ijawland of all military forces of occupation and repression by the Nigerian State…. Any oil company that employs the services of the armed forces of the Nigerian State to “protect” its operations will be viewed as an enemy of the Ijaw people.

    4…. We, therefore, demand that all oil companies stop all exploration and exploitation activities in the Ijaw area. We are tired of gas flaring; oil spillages, blowouts… pending the resolution of the issue of resource ownership and control in the Ijaw area of the Niger Delta

    5.. Ijaw youths and Peoples will promote the principle of peaceful coexistence between all Ijaw communities and with our immediate neighbours,… We offer a hand of friendship and comradeship to our neighbors: the Itsekiri, Ilaje, Urhobo, Isoko, Edo, Ibibio, Ogoni, Ekpeye, Ikwerre etc. We affirm our commitment to joint struggle with the other ethnic nationalities in the Niger delta area for self-determination.

    6. We express our solidarity with all peoples organisations and ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and elsewhere who are struggling for self-determination and justice. In particular we note the struggle of the Oodua peoples Congress (OPC) [ aka Wayo people], the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (Mosop), Egi Women’s Movement etc.
    …..
    9 We call on all Ijaws to remain true to their Ijawness and to work for the total liberation of our people. You have no other true home but that which is in Ijawland.

    10 …Conference approved that the best way for Nigeria is a federation of ethnic nationalities. The federation should be run on the basis equality and social justice.
    Signed for the entire participants by:

    Felix Tuodolo
    Ogoriba, Timi Kaiser-Wilhelm. 1998

    • burning spear

      ANY iJAW MAN WHO THINKS THE NIGERIAN STATE HAS ANY REGARD FOR HIM OR HER IS RESIDING IN A FOOLS PARADISE–THE YORUBAS AND THEIR FULANI TRAITORS– SHOULD LEAVE THE IJAW NATION ALONE-TO PLOT AND PLAN FOR THEIR OWN FUTURE–ITS BETTER TO FREE IN POVERTY THAN REMAIN SLAVE UNDER THE RICHES OF THEIR RESOURCES–THERE IS NOT HOPE FOR THE IJAW NATION IN NIGERIA—————NONE–NIGERIA IS OWNED BY THE YORUBAS AND FULANIS——-WATCH HOW OBAMA RIGGED BUHARI INTO POWER—ON DICK MORRIS TIV USA—————–THE IBOS CAME TO OUR AID AT THE TIME OF OUR NEED————

      • Ekanem

        U’re very correct. Secession is the answer. Control of resources or make Nigeria ungovernable????

  • burning spear

    Same old lies–even a dog will not hack into the ruibbish APC media outlet did against jonathan–Some of us——— were blocked from posting comments on PT for over a year-.-was that alos done by Jonathan——–PT the only media house to cater for the needs of the fulanis——was it established to bring progress to the fulanis or because of politics-PT is an arm of the CUA activities in Nigeria–just like sharia reporters-watch how Obama used the CIA to sack Jonathan—–ON——-Dick Morris TV USA

  • burning spear

    The just concluded March 28th 2015 presidential election in Nigeria was undoubtedly the most keenly contested ever. In a recent article, MARCH 28TH 2015 IS AN UNFAIR CONTEST BETWEEN BARACK OBAMA AND GOODLUCK JONATHAN, it was explained how the Obama White House, deployed its formidable bully pulpit in an orchestrated campaign against President Goodluck Jonathan, while clearly supporting the All Progressives Congress (“APC”) candidate (now President-elect) Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retired).

    One argued, therefore, that the election was effectively a competition between Goodluck Jonathan on one hand and Barack Obama on the other. In other words, General Buhari was not really on the ballot, as far as one was concerned.

    President Barack Obama’s decision to provide undeclared backing to the All Progressives Congress (“APC”) and General Buhari, violated a long-time American convention of non-interference in the elections of other sovereign nations.

    The series of patronizing actions, sponsored by the White House, culminated in a joint statement on March 30th 2015 by the American Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Mr. Philip Hammond, alleging that the election results “may be subject to deliberate political interference”.

    This broadside was released when the vote collation was still ongoing, thereby casting undue aspersion not only on the entire electoral process and the almost thirty million voters who participated in it, but indeed the nation itself.

    This was the second unsolicited and unwarranted diatribe by the American and British pair, the first being the denigrating joint missive authored by the same duo on March 21st 2015, precisely seven days prior to the election.
    The said election has already occurred, but the repercussions from the historic event shall continue to generate reactions for many days, weeks, months, years and perhaps for all time.

    R-E-V-E-A-L-E-D!!!
    Obama Helped Elect Militant Muslim Over Christian Incumbent In Nigeria! – Dick Morris TV, USA-WHAT A SHAME

    • ConScience

      You are a moron. So finally you have revealed yourself as a mole of Fox News. Nigeria will not cede to the Military Industrial Complex in America that makes tools of African leaders. Halliburton there is no war business in Nigeria. Move along now with your tools of depravity.

      • burning spear

        Mumu read the article penned by Dr. Sarki–u are now slaves to the US—————–AND uk THAT INSTALLED BUHARI—INTO POWER————————-

    • zacchaeus Akinleye

      Dick Morris was a counselor to President Clinton who was fired on August 29, 1996 for his tryst with a $200/hour prostitute, sherry Rowlands who claimed he let her listen in on presidential phone conversation. He is a rabid Obama hater whose political rantings carry high nuisance value. You got the wrong source for dirty stuff!

      • burning spear

        WHAT HAS HIS SLEEPING WITH A PROSTITUTE GOT TO DO WITH WHAT HE SAID—MUMU—-did u not see the American Ambassador to Nigeria with Jega at the INEC collating centre in abuja? This is how some of u janjaweeds sell yourselves cheap to the imperialist–allow my people go——

        • zacchaeus Akinleye

          It’s about character , the lack of which doomed Jonathan. Find a way to deal with your post election madness.

    • Akanji92

      Still online? Your sponsors won’t be able to pay you after now.

      • burning spear

        U DONT GET PAID WHEN U WORK FOR MR. TRUTH——————ITS LIKE WORKING IN THE VINE-YARD OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD–SELF–LESS SERVICE TO MANKIND—————IF U WANT TO BE PAID FOR YR JANJAWEED–GO ALIGN WITH THE MAGGOTS–DRUG ADDICTS AND CERTIFICATE FORGERS–IN APC–

    • George Ager.A

      Still licking your wounds i guess. Enjoy the bile and venom aggregating in your chest!

  • Concerned

    Thank you PT for the sterling contribution you made during these elections

    You and other online media have contributed immensely to the democratic process in our beloved country

    Your efforts are much appreciated!

  • Secessionist Niger Deltan

    +Nigeria’s leading investigative newspaper indeed! Nonsense! Nonsense!! Complete Nonsense!!!

    What the chronically biased PremiumTimes is not telling us is that it was set up by a clique from the North & West of Nigeria as a tool to discredit President Jonathan in a clandestine plot hatched from inception. It was Premium Times which would carry a report that soldiers have no weapons to fight terrorists…and the same medium would come up with another report with pictures of hunters waving sticks and machetes why claiming that the locals, armed with just sticks, killed over 50 terrorists.

    It sounds stuuupid and ridiculous. But it is true. Such was the depth of misinformation, crooked and unprecedented partisan journalism that became the hallmark of PremiumTimes in those days leading to the presidential elections….and you think we don’t know.

    Your victory is only ephemeral. As the Ijaw Nation and the entire Niger Delta militantly actualizes self determination and assertion of their control over their economic investments and resources, there will be no space for you to report and publish your pungent lies. You will not be able to tell the world that the oil in my backyard has its source from the rivers of Kano, Sokoto or Ibadan. By that time, you and your team will have become completely IRRELEVANT.

    …and you and your team in the opposition Islamic party called APC coined the term “insurgency” to describe the activities of Islamist terrorists who kidnap, rape, kills school children on their beds in their dormitories or attack Churches and kill worshippers while prayers are going on. This is what PremiumTimes would describe as “insurgency”. So, you don’t know the difference between “Jihadist Terrorism” and “Insurgency”? …..Nonsense.

    By the way, what about the hacking into the systems of those that post comments that are at variance to your position? Stealing passwords and hacking e-mail communications? Or you think we don’t see you? …Is this act by you not just as criminal and as evil?

    • Nnodim

      Tell them.

    • Life is Good

      …and do you mind sharing any detail about the 2011 plot that brought a fake and abnormally dull PhD holder to the corridors of power? Think a little bit ahead your blackberry BIS plan…!

  • Akanji92

    Thanks for a job well done. Premium Times, Sahara Reporters, The Nation, Punch, among others are real journalism heroes of Nigeria’s freedom

    • burning spear

      iTS YOUR DIRTY CONSCIENCE THAT IS PRICKING U———–IF U HAVE ANY————-

    • Ade

      Apc papers? Is time Sahara focus on the corrupt APC officials

  • burning spear

    Same old lies–even a dog will not hack into the rubbish APC media outlet did against Jonathan–Some of us——— were blocked from posting comments on PT for over a year-.-Was that also done by Jonathan-?——-PT the only media house to cater for the need by the Fulanis and Yorubas to destabilize Nigeria and the people of the SS–for certificate forger Buhari–Was PT established to bring progress to the fulanis or because of politics-PT is an arm of the CIA activities in Nigeria–just like sharia reporters-watch how Obama used the CIA to sack Jonathan—–ON——-Dick Morris TV USA

  • Mayo

    With all due respect to you guys, there was nothing spectacular about your (Premium Times) reporting of the election. Most of the other papers were also reporting the results. ‘The Cable’ newspapers was the only paper that presented electoral updates in reverse chronological order i.e. the most recent information was at the top of the page, while the older information was at the bottom of the page. I open your website to see results/check for updates and I have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find the latest information? And you claim this is exceptional coverage? Didn’t you guys see the way information is displayed on Twitter or other news media when they are covering a live event?

    Secondly, at no point was I unable to access PT website during the election period. If you guys had suffered a Distributed Denial of Service attack, your site would have been unreachable for some time. No matter the kind of infrastructure you have, A DDOS attack will render your site unreachable for a period of time and this never happened with you guys.

  • #NigerDeltaDecides

    We call on all Ijaw Youths to be alert and ready to heed the call to the service of the Ijaw Nation at this crucial time of our history and struggle for survival in the Nigerian state in the face of the grand conspiracy between the north and a section of the south west to continue to suppress and exploit the resource of the Ijaw nation.

    —–Eric Omare (Spokeperson, IYC)

  • Omerigwe V.D

    “….Musikilu Mojeed, PREMIUM TIMES managing editor…”

    No wonder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No wonder! Why wont Islamist candidate be supported and dressed up?

  • Colonel Mariama(rtd)

    I did warn you folks about the possibility that your website might be hacked if you did not stop blocking my posts. Now look who is complaimimg and see how it is that I am laughing so hard. It may still happen to you.

  • famaks

    I dey laugh ihhhoooo. Burning spear or ehat uou call your name, from the way you talk you have not heard that GEJ was in csge for 16 years?

    You are one of the people who kept Gej in the cage of self deception unconcious of his real environment,

    The guy said he is the most lucky Nigerian for eccapping another 4 yrs in galo

  • Jujubeans

    Thanks Premium times. Your honest and dogged reporting is much appreciated by honest, hard working Nigerians.