Cyber war breaks out in Tunisia

As the Tunisian uprising continues on the ground with no sign of abating, the battle over information is intensifying on the internet.

Yesterday there were numerous reports of Tunisians' Facebook pages and email accounts being hacked – presumably by the regime – with Yahoo users apparently the most vulnerable.

The nawaat website responded with technical guidance for protecting against attacks. The Tunisian Pirate Party was also reported to be distributing USB sticks containing Tor (anonymity software) to students.

The Tunisian government is regarded as a world leader in the field of internet censorship and it could easily block access to the whole of Facebook if it chose to do so. However, it seems to have recognised that this would be extremely unpopular and could further inflame the protests – so it has opted for targeting individuals who oppose the regime.

The authorities also routinely block access to anything remotely critical which appears on websites outside the country. According to a Twitter user, this article was blocked within 10 minutes of appearing on a Swiss website.

Parallel with the government's assault on internet users, the group known as Anonymous has been attacking government-related websites (as reported here yesterday). Al-Jazeera has more details.

When checked this morning, the following websites were still unavailable: (Tunisian Stock Exchange)  (Tunisian Foreign Relations) (Ministry of Industry)  (Tunisian Government Commerce) (The Carthage Palace – presidential website) (Presidential elections site) (Tunisian government site listing various ministries)

Al-Jazeera appears to be the only major news organisation trying to cover the uprising on a day-to-day basis and, predictably, it hascome under fire from the Tunisian regime and its supporters. The accusations of "unprofessionalism" and using "unreliable" (ie non-governmental) sources are a bit rich considering that the authorities are doing their utmost to prevent it from reporting. It is having to make extensive use of amateur videos and social networking websites in order to get information.

Twitter users reported demonstrations in several Tunsian cities yesterday, though details are scarce. The nawaat website posted videos of two student protests, one at the Institut de Presse et des Sciences de l'Information and the other at Gronbalya Lycée. It also reports a hunger strike by trade unionists in Redeyef.

Lawyers have reportedly called a strike for Thursday, January 6.

The Egyptian foreign minister arrived in Tunisia yesterday for two days of discussions on "key issues of mutual interest". The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, also began an official visit.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 Jan 2011.