Traditional hackers now turning their crosshairs on conservatives
By Rachel Alexander
Owners of popular conservative websites have increasing reason to be concerned their sites may be hacked or otherwise physically attacked for political reasons. Traditionally, hackers took an anarchist approach that primarily targeted government websites. Lately, they are assailing politically conservative websites. Many of these newer attacks are coming from hackers associated with Wikileaks. Some libertarian conservatives defend Wikileaks' business of leaking government documents, unaware that its affiliates are hypocritically trying to silence them. In addition to wreaking technical havoc, hackers have figured out they can use Google's strict policy against deceptive website tactics to keep conservative websites hidden from the internet for long periods of time.
After Google banned my website, Intellectual Conservative, a few weeks ago due to some political enemies who had "cloaked" it, I decided to look into how prevalent the hacking of conservatives websites has become. Politically targeted hacking is known as "hactivism," and is really a form of cyberterrorism. Not all attacks upon websites are considered hacking, some are less intrusive such as DDoS (distributed denial-of-service attack), where a website is continually pinged until it is forced to shut down.
A new powerful hacking organization surfaced this summer targeting conservatives in addition to government websites. LulzSec (short for Lulz Security Hacking Collective, which gets its name from LOLs, "laughing out loud" and an abbreviation for security) first emerged on the hacking scene in May when it hacked Fox.com in retaliation over Fox News' labeling of the rapper Common as "vile." In June, LulzSec hacked Arizona's Department of Public Safety in protest of the enforcement of SB 1070, Arizona's tough immigration enforcement law. In July, the organization hacked into several newspaper websites and defaced them with false reports of the death of conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch. LulzSec member "Whirlpool" told BBC Newsnight, "Politically motivated ethical hacking is more fulfilling." Several members of the organization have since been arrested.
The hacking group "Anonymous," known for its targeting of anti-Wikileaks websites, attacked the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP) website in February rendering it unreachable for a period of time. The hackers issued a statement denouncing AFP's support for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his standoff against the unions, asking people to boycott Koch Industries, which provides major funding for AFP. "Anonymous" hacked into Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account in September 2008, and passed emails along to Wikileaks which displayed them on its website.
Another hacking group known as Anon_Ops and affiliated with Wikileaks launched a DDoS attack last December on Sarah Palin's sarahpac.com, compromising her credit card account and shutting the site down for hours. Wikileaks supporters announced that they were angry at Palin for urging the US government to pursue Wikileaks editor Julian Assange the way it pursues the Taliban. When Bill O'Reilly condemned the attacks on Palin's Yahoo email account, his website was hacked by Wikileaks supporters and personal details of more than 200 of its subscribers were posted online.
Major attacks on conservative websites have increased from one every few years to several each year. In May of last year, a college student was charged with launching DDoS (Denial of Service) attacks against the websites billoreilly.com, anncoulter.com and joinrudy2008.com. He was ultimately sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay large amounts of restitution. Last fall the prominent teaparty.org site was hacked, diverting visitors to smut and porn sites. Ron Paul's campaign website was subject to a DDoS attack last month during the last hours of a fundraising money bomb to raise $1.5 million for his 76th birthday. Rep. Michelle Bachmann's campaign website was attacked last summer and infected with a virus which spread to visitors using the Internet Explorer or Chrome browsers.
Websites associated with the Conservative Party in England were hacked last year by political opponents who left messages on the sites stating that they had been hacked. The hackers sent out emails to an email list associated with one of the websites which said, "Vote for Labour – NOT US!" The Canadian Conservative Party website was hacked in June and hackers known as LulzRaft changed the website to falsely state that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been rushed to the hospital.
Prior to 2008 there had only been sporadic attacks on conservative websites. In 2005, to protest the inauguration of George W. Bush, the left wing Internet Liberation Front hacked six Republican websites and replaced them with a politically charged message, "The will of the people was not expressed in these elections. Imperialist war, tax cuts for the rich, and ecological destruction are not in the interest of working people or the stability of our global society." The sites hacked were the Arizona Young Republicans, Students4Freedom.com, CollegeConservative.com, Freedominion.ca, RepublicanFirst.com, and Freedominstitute.ca. In 2000, the Republican National Committee website was hacked on the day of the presidential election and replaced with a message urging people to vote for Al Gore.
Conservative websites are also coming under attack for their support of Israel and opposition to radical Islam. In January 2010, the American Conservative website was hacked and the content replaced with spyware. A Palestinian flag was posted on the site with a message about how the site should stop supporting Jews. The American Conservative is a prominent voice for the paleoconservative wing of conservatism, and was founded by Pat Buchanan. It is not generally known for being a staunch defender of Israel, and some have thought the hacking was done out of retaliation over a Jewish publisher replacing Buchanan.
Minnesota's Eighth District GOP website featured music for Christians and Jews during the 2009 Christmas season. It was hacked and replaced with a burning American flag, the words "death to Israel," and images of masked militants carrying RPGs. The conservative blog Euphoric Reality, which investigates military justice and exposes radical Islam, was hacked in 2008 and strewn with pro-Islamic writings.
There is some speculation whether conservative sites have been targeted for political reasons or were attacked by random hackers. The overwhelming evidence points to political motives. My site was not attacked by random hackers. Within minutes after I banned the IP address of the hacker from my website, I saw one of my political enemies on the same page the hacker was pinging – coincidentally one obscure old article out of several thousand on my site.
Hacking conservative websites is on the rise and it is hurting conservatives. Smaller sites that do not have the resources to recover are left devastated. Euphoric Reality has never fully recovered; there has been nothing posted on the site in two years. Larger websites suffer significant setbacks, forced to spend large amounts of time and resources which take them out of commission indefinitely. This can make or break an election or crucial political battle. Being removed from Google drastically decreases a website's reach, and it can take months to be re-indexed. Conservatives must be diligent about reporting these attacks to the FBI and local law enforcement and bringing attention to them. As more hackers are caught and held accountable, sending a warning message to others, the attacks will subside. These kinds of attacks are unfair and account to censorship – hypocritically exactly what the anarchist hackers claim to oppose.
Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law and social media political consulting in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been published in the American Spectator, Townhall.com, Fox News, NewsMax, Accuracy in Media, The Americano, ParcBench, and other publications.