Hackers Target State-Run Voice of Vietnam After Reports Critical of Popular Livestreamer

Information ministry directs local authorities to tighten controls on ‘unlawful information.’
2021-06-15
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Nguyen Phuong Hang and her husband Huynh Uy Dung in a recent livestreamed video.
Image captured from video posted on YouTube

A state-run news outlet in Vietnam was hacked a day after it published two reports critical of a YouTuber famous for exposing fraud among the country’s celebrities, local media reported.

Nguyen Phuong Hang has become well known in Vietnam, for her videos and livestreams that targeted several of the country’s entertainment personalities and a doctor of traditional medicine.

Voice of Vietnam (VOV) on June 12 published the reports about Hang, with headlines “Ms. Phuong Hang and Aberrant Livestreamed Videos: It’s Time to Take Strict Action,” and “Don’t Give Yourself the Right to Offend Anyone Online.” 

Ngo Trieu Phong, the editor-in-chief of VOV’s online newspaper told local media that the newspaper’s website had been continuously hacked since Sunday, the day after the articles were published.

RFA was unable to determine if the attacks were related to VOV’s reports on Hang.

The Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crime Prevention under the Ministry of Public Security confirmed to local media that the Ministry of Public Security had received the Voice of Vietnam’s request for an investigation into a cyber-attack and that an investigation was underway. 

Reports in the media said the newspaper suffered several attacks from multiple fake accounts that culminated in a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. The attackers reportedly also hacked VOV’s Facebook page, sending offensive and threatening emails to interviewees and reporters.

According to Editor Phong, VOV’s articles were unbiased and featured expert opinions without the views of the newspaper or its reporters. He said the main point of the articles were to highlight that people should not abuse social media and livestreaming capabilities to harm the dignity and honor of others.

Hang’s livestreamed videos have broken records in Vietnam, generating views in the millions. Many of her recent videos discussed the shortcomings of celebrities and public figures, including a recent one that exposed comedian Hoai Linh for postponing disbursement of his publicly pledged donation of 14 billion dong (U.S. $610,000) to the victims of catastrophic flooding that inundated the country’s central region last year.

Shortly after Hang gained notoriety through her videos, the Ministry of Information and Communications issued directives to provincial and municipal authorities to tighten their control over “unlawful information” on the internet and to hand out “appropriate punishments” to violators.

Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung delivered a speech Monday calling a cleaner, friendlier cyberspace.

“There are many gaps existing in the cyber-domain, and they have been taken advantage of,” he said.

“Many individuals and organizations have been hurt and the Ministry of Information and Communication should be the first agency responsible for easing their pain,” said the minister.

Vietnam passed a controversial cybersecurity law that took effect in Jan. 2019 and grants authorities “sweeping powers to censor online content,” with technology companies required to identify users and remove politically sensitive postings.

Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of activists, writers, and bloggers.

According to the rights group Defend the Defenders, Hanoi is currently detaining at least 262 prisoners of conscience.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anny Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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