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Project Galileo’ Aims to Protect Vulnerable Websites from Hack Attacks

Journalists and artists incurring the wrath of governments and hackers have a new tool to fight back against attacks on their websites. "Project Galileo" aims to shield artistic and political content against attacks by hostile governments and movements.

The project is part of CloudFlare, a company that offers free and paid services to speed up websites and protect them against things like denial-of-service attacks, in which a site is flooded with so much traffic that it shuts down. But CEO Matthew Prince explained in a telephone interview that sometimes what it provided wasn't good enough.

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"There are certain politically or artistically important sites that come under very, very large attacks, and they have very modest, if any, resources to deal with that," he explained.

Cyber warfare threat grows

One small site, for instance, had its free CloudFlare protection overwhelmed a few months ago. It was only later that Prince found out it was in fact "one of the leading blogs covering the unrest in Ukraine, and they had received what was probably a state-sponsored attack intended to silence them."

Such attacks are happening more often, and on larger scales, than ever before. So CloudFlare is partnering with humanitarian and civil rights organizations to identify sites that are at risk and should receive heavy-duty protection on the house.

Prince described Project Galileo as a "Bat Phone": if a journalist covering government corruption in Zimbabwe finds his site under attack, CloudFlare can be alerted quickly and deploy the protection needed. It can't prevent total Internet blackouts or interference like China's content filters, but those are beyond any private company's capabilities.

The response has been extremely positive: Seventeen organizations have signed up to be watchdogs, and while most sites under protection (understandably) are not being published, the few mentioned publicly show that serious ecological, political and human rights issues are at stake.

Prince also indicated that CloudFlare will provide protection regardless of the content. The company already has some controversial clients: the notorious hacker outfit Lulzsec, for instance, and Hamas, considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization.

"Bullies shouldn't be able to censor content online just because they have more resources," said Prince. "The Internet is great because it lets anybody with an opinion express that opinion. We're not going to say whether that opinion is right or wrong."