‘Anonymous’ claims responsibility for cyber attack that shut down government websites

WATCH: There was a major cyber-attack on Wednesday by the activist group ‘Anonymous’, aimed squarely at the Canadian government. Jacques Bourbeau reports.

Federal government web servers were attacked Wednesday as a protest against the contentious Conservative anti-terror bill, according to the online activist group Anonymous.

“Today, Anons around the world took a stand for your rights,” a robotic voice track on a video posted to YouTube says. “We now ask that you follow suit. Stand for your rights, take to the streets in protest this 20th of June 2015. Disregard these laws which are unjust, even illegal.”

Federal sites were up and down throughout the afternoon before Treasury Board President Tony Clement confirmed a cyber attack via Twitter.

Later, speaking to reporters, Clement said Public Safety and Shared Services are working to restore service to federal sites.

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“We are working very diligently to restore service as soon as possible, and to find out the origination of the attack,” he said.

The YouTube video, titled #OpCyberPrivacy – Call To Action Round Two, blamed the passage of Bill C-51 for the attacks.

“Greetings citizens of Canada, we are Anonymous,” the video begins. “Today, this 17th of June, 2015 we launched an attack against the Canadian Senate and Government of Canada websites in protest against the recent passing of Bill C-51, a bill which is a clear violation of the universal declaration of human rights.”

The video shows images of swarms of people wearing Guy Fawkes masks during protests that appear to have taken place in Europe, cut with some images of unmasked protesters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

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READ MORE: Canadian issues a hot topic for hacker group Anonymous  

An official source of the outage was not immediately made public, though a spokesperson with Shared Services Canada said the agency is looking into the matter.

Several Government of Canada sites went down in the afternoon, including and the sites for Foreign Affairs, Transport Canada, Citizenship and Immigration and Justice Canada.

The massive outage knocked dozens of more departmental sites offline and reportedly affected BlackBerrys and internal network services.

READ MORE: Conservative groups’ make last minute plea to Harper to stop C-51

What happened to the government websites Wednesday is a “classic distributed-denial-of-service” attack, said Canadian cybersecurity expert Patrick Malcolm. In these attacks, hackers target a site and flood it with requests. The abnormally high amount of activity either slows down a site or completely overwhelms and disables it.

How severe the attack is depends on how prepared the victim site’s host is, he said.

“The better prepared the victim is for these types of attacks, the less harmful they become,” Malcolm said in an interview. “If you don’t have a plan, it can leave you flatfooted.”

But at the end of the day, these attacks are not preventable, he said.

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READ MORE: With support from Liberals, Conservatives pass controversial anti-terror bill

“I believe these kinds of [attacks] will continue. Retribution against what [Anonymous] thinks is an unfair, invasive and privacy -invading act is something that’s very apropos for this group.”

In the case Wednesday’s attack, the fact some sites were slowly coming back up online made it clear the government was taking steps to address and fix the issue, he said.

The YouTube video was posted to a channel called Op Cyber Privacy, which bears the same name and logo of a Twitter account that threatened, “The games have just begun.”

The tweet was tagged with the “cdnpoli” hashtag, used for tweets pertaining to Canadian politics.

Bill C-51 was passed last week, but has generated controversy since it was introduced in January.

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Among other provisions, the legislation expands Canada’s spy agency’s powers and allows for easier information sharing between government agencies.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has said the new tools are necessary for fighting the growing threat of terrorism; critics have warned the legislation lacked any extra oversight to match the expanding powers.

The Canadian Bar Association said the bill contained “ill-considered” measures that will deprive Canadians of liberties without increasing their safety.

WATCH: Treasury Board President Tony Clement speaks with reporters about about government servers being hacked.

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