In early spring, hacktivists referring to themselves as Anonymous Mexico began to call for Dominicans to boycott the nation's May 20 presidential elections, while also vowing to knock down JCE's website, Joseph says. Just a few minutes before the polls opened, the hacktivists began an intense attack to flood the electoral board's website with nuisance requests, says Paul Sop, senior analyst at Prolexic, which helped deflect the assault and keep the agency's website up.
When the flooding technique proved ineffective, the attackers shifted to an attempt to directly penetrate and overwhelm the agency's Web server. The battle ensued throughout Election Day and for 12 hours after the polls closed. "But we were able to stop them," Sop says.
Joseph notes that in addition to helping run elections, JCE's website plays a pivotal role in supplying Dominicans with birth certificates and other important services.
"If Anonymous would have been successful, the impact would have been tremendous," Joseph says. "That's why we decided to keep the website online and very well protected."
Security and Internet experts anticipate that many more companies, non-profits and government agencies globally could be facing similar decisions in the months to come.
"Hacktivism is a chaotic element," observes Tom Cross, research director at network monitoring firm Lancope. "It's hard to predict exactly where it will strike, and there's a wide variety of people with differing motives who could pull off a denial-of-service attack."
Cross believes an Election-Day attack in South Korea late last year on a website providing information about polling locations, and similar election-related attacks in Russia and Hong Kong, could be harbingers of things to come.
"I hope that we don't see denial-of-service attacks in association with the U.S. presidential elections, but it's a distinct possibility, and we need to be prepared for it," he says.