Hack Story of March 13th

The Inkshed websites were briefly replaced today by a message from a Turkish hacktivist group, but both the parent site at www.inkshed.ca and the new site at www.inkshed.ca/blog are now up again, apparently intact.

Here’s the story. It offers an unexpected connection to international politics, but leaves some remaining mysteries. This morning, a colleague of Carl Leggo noticed that links on the site weren’t working and that the homepage had been replaced by a strange image; she told Carl, who emailed me; Roger Graves then contacted the server administrators to take down the site and restore its files from their automatic backup, which they did promptly. The downtime was probably only a couple of hours. We don’t know yet how the hackers got in, but at least the inner walls of the security system worked. And the quick human responses were impressive.

Around mid-day I sent a brief note to the CASLL listserv saying the site had been hacked, but would be back soon. A flurry of emails followed in fine Inkshed form. Russ Hunt suggested that the term “hacked” might just be the server administrators’ excuse for a glitch in their maintenance of the site. After some speculation about whether Inkshed ranked with Wall Street and the Pentagon as a target, and whether Edward Snowden had been attracted by the dangerous term “Inkshed,” Tanya Smith brought her webmaster experience to the suggestion that “hacking” could mean “hijacking.”

“Hijacking” is a good word for what I saw today when I tried to go to the parent page at www.inkshed.ca. As the image below shows, the Inkshed Newsletter page title had been replaced by the words “Hacked by XX” (I’m deliberately substituting XX for the group’s name here), and the screen was filled with a huge and fierce red eagle’s head on a black background, overlaid by a white crescent and star. English text (alternating with Turkish) scrolled down the top centre: “All the muslims are together. The CYBER-WAR will be appeared all the Countries which not respecting Islam . XX promises that they will visit your areas too…” The bottom of the screen gave links to other sections of the site.

While waiting for the site to be restored, I googled the group by name, and found lots of evidence of hacks on other organizations, many of them not yet fixed. I was also intrigued to find a paper called “Cyber Terror: The Borderless Danger” by Banu Baybars Hawks of Kadir Has University in Istanbul, published in 2011 on the Inter-Disciplinary.net publications site. Using critical discourse analysis, Hawks discusses how the group gains attention for Muslim grievances by causing temporary disturbances in cyberspace. Hawks describes group members as Turkish software engineers working abroad, and says they deliberately mount attacks that don’t leave behind Trojans or destroy the sites, causing no financial or material loss. In fact, he claims they are the “white hats” of responsible hacking, and that the term “hacktivism” is the correct one for their activities, not “cyberterrorism.”

I’m ready to concede that point: I felt disturbed and annoyed today, not terrorized. But I still can’t give a clear answer to the question a couple of listserv members asked today: “Why on earth would anyone want to do this to Inkshed?”

So CASLL has now become part of cyberhistory, in a small way. There’s no telling now what will happen to the word Inkshed, though I doubt Edward Snowden will be contacting us soon.

Margaret Procter, Inkshed website moderator