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How A Gentleman Hacks
by James Dunnigan
June 16, 2012

The U.S. Secretary of State gave a speech last month in which she implied that U.S. government hackers had gone after al Qaeda web sites and replaced pictures of dead Americans with photos of Moslem civilians killed by al Qaeda. Several media outlets picked up on this and ran the story. Soon, some readers decided to check for themselves and the less exciting truth emerged. What the State Department did was place anti-al Qaeda ads on a pro-terrorist web site. Like most web sites, ads are provided by a broker (often Google) and if you want to spend the money, you can outbid everyone else to put your ads on a particular website. That's what the State Department did with this one pro-al Qaeda website. Until the web site management was able to get in touch with the ad broker, the State Department ads appeared, contradicting what the pro-terrorist web site was all about. Hardly a hack and not cheap either.

What the State Department would like to do on these websites is post a lot of anti-terrorist material. But state department staff or contractors can only do that if they identify themselves as representatives of the U.S. government. Al Qaeda haters who do not work for the U.S. government can, and often do, flood terrorist web sites with ant-al Qaeda material, without officially identifying themselves as anti-terrorism activists.


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