CloudFlare offers free DDoS protection to public interest websites

Project Galileo will help political and artistic websites resist censorship attempts that use distributed denial-of-service techniques

A project launched by CloudFlare, a provider of website performance and security services, allows organizations engaged in news gathering, civil society and political or artistic speech to use the company's distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection technology for free.

The goal of the project, dubbed Galileo, is to protect freedom of expression on the Web by helping sites with public interest information from being censored through online attacks, according to the San Francisco-based company.

"If a website participating in Project Galileo comes under attack, CloudFlare will extend full protection to ensure the site stays online -- no matter its location, no matter its content," the Project Galileo website says.

The company will not publicly name the sites enrolled in the program to keep them safe "from potential backlash," but said that participants include minority rights organizations, LGBT rights organizations in Africa and the Middle East, global citizen journalist sites, and independent media outlets in the developing world.

To be accepted into Project Galileo, CloudFare said, websites need to be engaged in news gathering, civil society, or political/artistic speech; to be the subject of online attacks as a result of those activities; to belong to non-profit organizations or small commercial entities and to act in the public interest. CloudFlare has partnered with over a dozen civil society organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology and American Civil Liberties Union to help it make those determinations.

According to the company, websites accepted into the program should on average be up and running with DDoS protection in several hours, but the process can take as long as a couple of days in some circumstances.

CloudFlare named its project Galileo after Galileo Galilei, the famous Italian physicist and astronomer whose writings in support of heliocentrism -- the astronomical model where the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun -- were deemed heretical and banned by the Catholic Church.

"Like Galileo, websites espousing politically sensitive -- even heretical -- speech are often victims of suppression," said Kenneth R. Carter, counsel at CloudFlare, in a blog post Thursday. "Like Galileo, most of these sites dont have the resources to protect their discoveries from being suppressed."

DDoS attacks have frequently been used by hackers and other groups as a tool for both censorship and protest. Hacktivist group Anonymous is famous for its DDoS campaigns driven by political motives against pro-copyright organizations, governments and religious groups.

In May, Firedoglake.com, which describes itself as a "progressive news site, online community, and action organization," asked its readers to make donations so it can fend off DDoS attacks.

CloudFlare is not the first security company to offer free DDoS protection to websites serving the public interest. In October 2013, Google launched Project Shield, an initiative that allows websites dealing with news, human rights and election-related content to use the company's infrastructure and DDoS defenses.

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