* Attacks started at 1530 GMT Wednesday
* 51 govt websites hit, access to most restored
* No personal or financial data stolen-police (Adds government announcement)
By Liau Y-Sing and Niluksi Koswanage
KUALA LUMPUR, June 16 (Reuters) - Fifty-one Malaysian government websites were hacked into overnight but no personal or financial data was compromised, government officials said on Thursday, as the nation became the latest target of a cyber-war waged by online activists.
The Southeast Asian country has a vibrant Internet culture that has gained a mass following in an environment where the mainstream media is tightly controlled.
The government has in the past charged bloggers with sedition, often detaining suspects for long periods without trial.
In the attacks, 91 websites were hit including 51 government websites, the industry regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, said on Thursday.
Access to 76 of the 91 websites attacked since shortly before midnight on Wednesday had been recovered, it said.
The attacks followed a warning by Internet vigilante group Anonymous, which said it would attack the government’s official portal to punish it for censoring WikiLeaks, the website that aims to expose governments and corporations by leaking secret documents.
“Most government-related websites are (now) accessible to the public and have either not been affected by the service outages or have recovered from the attacks,” the commission said.
It did not name the sites which were attacked but targets included the government’s online portal http:www.malaysia.gov.my, and the web pages of the fire and emergency services department www.bomba.gov.my and the land public transport commission www.spad.gov.my.
Malaysian police chief Ismail Omar told Reuters no personal or financial data had so far been stolen but the authorities were trying to determine the extent of the attacks.
It was not immediately clear if the attacks were launched by Anonymous or other hackers.
Anonymous is a grouping of global activists lobbying for Internet freedom who frequently try to shut down the websites of businesses and other organisations that they oppose.
The activists gained prominence when they temporarily crippled the websites of MasterCard and Paypal that cut off financial services to WikiLeaks.
A spate of cyber attacks on multinational firms and institutions, from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to Citigroup to the International Monetary Fund, has raised concerns that governments and the private sector may struggle to defend themselves against hackers.
In an earlier Internet posting, Anonymous said Malaysia’s censorship of films and television shows and its blocking of file-sharing websites amounted to a denial of human rights.
The communication commission last week banned 10 file-sharing sites and ordered Internet service providers such as Telekom Malaysia and Maxis to block access.
The restrictions have outraged ordinary Malaysians, and several people took to Twitter to express support for the cyber-attacks.
“Now to count how many sites have gotten whacked so far,” said a tweet posted by Rhyden. “I knew the government’s IT defence team was pathetic.” (Additional reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by Nick Macfie)