Follow up & analysis of Palin e-mail controversy
by Anthony - posted 11:16 am, September 18, 2008
By today we’re well aware that the e-mails posted were legitimate, as the McCain campaign has made a statement regarding the situation, and an investigation is under way.
The Register is reporting the investigation may be relatively easy to conclude. The attacker attempted to cover their tracks using ctunnel.com, a proxy service. This way, when Yahoo searches their logs, the visits would have appeared from ctunnel.com, rather than the address information of the person(s) who had broken in to the account. It just so happens that ctunnel.com logs connections for situations such as this, and thanks to screen shots showing a large portion of the ctunnel.com URL in the address bar of the web browser, it’s going to be pretty easy to match that to the log files.
Anyway, now that the dust has settled some, I thought maybe I’d take a few moments to respond to the slew of comments and hatemail about the Pailin e-mails. It doesn’t seem many understand the nature of the situation, and mainstream media is having a field day with spin and framing the story for whoever candidate they’re biased to. So here’s my thoughts:
… on anonymous
First, a little background on who “anonymous” is. They’re often referred to as a “group,” but they’re more like an Internet counter-culture. There is NO organization, agenda, or leadership. It’s just a bunch of individuals acting on their own that wear the label. Their main playground is the 4chan.org website, though there are dozens of other spin-off sites. The site, and others like it, are based on “imageboard” software, which is like a message board, but puts emphasis on posting images over posting discussion. Those who post on any of the 4chan boards are not required to sign up for an account, and are not required to leave any identifying information – hence “anonymous.” Threads on the board only last as long as they’re being actively being replied to, and otherwise will fade away and are automatically removed from the system when visitors have moved on to more “interesting” topics.
It originally started for those with interest in Japanese culture, anime cartoons, and that sort of thing. It contains different categories, one of which being “Random,” or the /b/ board. This was an anything-goes area of the website that’s grown virally to enormous proportions. The /b/ board is basically the armpit of the Internet, where people post photos and jokes of all sorts (often spreading beyond their confines as viral “memes” – if you use the web, you’ve probably seen some of these “memes” without even realizing) – including copious amounts of pornography, gore, and racist material – and it’s cultural norm there to find it funny, no matter the content or context. Some of the postings are actually still related to Japanese culture, though few and far between. /b/ loosely organizes on occasion to play pranks; their spoils being screen shots or photographs of their pranks, that they then in turn post onto the board to poke more fun at. Pranks (or “raids” as they call it) have run the gamut from making fun of people with eating disorders on on-line support groups, inserting pornography and racist imagery into on-line children’s games, breaking into MySpace and Facebook accounts, prank calling talk shows, and all the way up to “real-life” pranks as serious as bomb threats. Even the much famed Scientology protests organized by “anonymous” wasn’t so much about an ethical, religious, or moral stance against the group – it was simply to annoy them, grab 15 minutes of fame, and get a few laughs.
All in all, these folks aren’t activists. They’re an immature bunch (probably because most are teenagers), simply seeking attention and make mischief to get it. Sometimes that mischief is rather high profile, like yesterday, and it gets them high profile attention. The Internet to them, is a mere playground. Take one glance at their website, and you’ll see what I mean (but do so only if you’re prepared to be offended and thoroughly disgusted on every level humanly possible. That’s NOT an exaggeration. You’ve been warned.)
… on how it all went down
This description was posted to the 4chan board yesterday, by a person going by the nickname “rubico.” I’ll stress, there’s no way to confirm this, because again, people are allowed to post whatever they want anonymously. It does seem to jive with how things played out however. Red text is my “translation” for you, for those who don’t speak “Internet”.
rubico 09/17/08(Wed)12:57:22 No.85782652
Hello, /b/ as many of you might already know, last night sarah palin’s yahoo was “hacked” and caps were posted on /b/, i am the lurker who did it, and i would like to tell the story.
In the past couple days news had come to light about palin using a yahoo mail account, it was in news stories and such, a thread was started full of newfags (somebody relatively new to the website) trying to do something that would not get this off the ground, for the next 2 hours the acct was locked from password recovery presumably from all this bullshit spamming.
after the password recovery was reenabled, it took seriously 45 mins on wikipedia and google to find the info, Birthday? 15 seconds on wikipedia, zip code? well she had always been from wasilla, and it only has 2 zip codes (thanks online postal service!)
the second was somewhat harder, the question was “where did you meet your spouse?” did some research, and apparently she had eloped with mister palin after college, if youll look on some of the screenshits that I took and other fellow anon have so graciously put on photobucket you will see the google search for “palin eloped” or some such in one of the tabs.
I found out later though more research that they met at high school, so I did variations of that, high, high school, eventually hit on “Wasilla high” I promptly changed the password to popcorn and took a cold shower…
>> rubico 09/17/08(Wed)12:58:04 No.85782727
this is all verifiable if some anal /b/tard wants to think Im a troll (if a “regular visitor” thinks I’m lying), and there isn’t any hard proof to the contrary, but anyone who had followed the thread from the beginning to the 404 (when the discussion topic expired) will know I probably am not, the picture I posted this topic with is the same one as the original thread.
I read though the emails… ALL OF THEM… before I posted, and what I concluded was anticlimactic, there was nothing there, nothing incriminating, nothing that would derail her campaign as I had hoped, all I saw was personal stuff, some clerical stuff from when she was governor…. And pictures of her family
I then started a topic on /b/, peeps asked for pics or gtfo (aka “prove it”) and I obliged, then it started to get big
Earlier it was just some prank to me, I really wanted to get something incriminating which I was sure there would be, just like all of you anon out there that you think there was some missed opportunity of glory, well there WAS NOTHING, I read everything, every little blackberry confirmation… all the pictures, and there was nothing, and it finally set in, THIS internet was serious business, yes I was behind a proxy, only one, if this shit ever got to the FBI I was fucked, I panicked, i still wanted the stuff out there but I didn’t know how to rapidshit all that stuff (post to a file sharing site, rapidshare.com), so I posted the pass on /b/, and then promptly deleted everything, and unplugged my internet and just sat there in a comatose state
Then the white knight fucker came along, and did it in for everyone, I trusted /b/ with that email password, I had gotten done what I could do well, then passed the torch , all to be let down by the douchebaggery, good job /b/, this is why we cant have nice things
… on spin and conspiracy theories
We don’t yet know for sure who’s responsible, as the above account can’t be confirmed. Given the description above and armed with some general knowledge as to how this “group” behaves, it is totally likely that whoever perpetrated it acted alone. These are teens and adolescents that for a large part would rather be trading pornography than be involved in a political scandal. There’s a chance the perpetrator isn’t even old enough to vote.
At any rate, when you hear labels like “extreme left wing activist group” attributed to anonymous in the media, it’s time to change the channel. That’s simply not true, and is way off base. There’s no particular affiliation; they’re a bunch of individuals, acting individually, though under the same guise.
It’s been interesting to see both sides spin it with their theories. We have republicans angered, claiming it’s nothing but liberals or “Obama operatives” relentlessly digging for dirt. We have democrats claiming this was done intentionally as a publicity stunt. We have others yet with really twisted conspiracies that say Palin faked the hacking of her e-mail in order to have cover to delete the accounts. (News for that theory, Yahoo has probably just “disabled” the account, leaving its contents in tact. Even if it was “deleted,” a company such as Yahoo surely has back-ups.) So again, all of these ideas are stretching it. It was basically a prank. Even despite the language above about “derailing the campaign,” the goal was probably a notoriety grab. The more attention and drama a prank stirs up, the more its “lulz” value rises – how funny it is to them. They would do the same to any candidate; it just so happens the Palin compromise was easy to pull off.
… on posting the material
I’m really disappointed with all the threats I’ve received as a result of this – disappointed that so few of us know our own rights. I guess it’s hard to know any more these days with the ways our constitution has been trampled the past few years, but we can still cling on to the first amendment for the most part. I admit, I had to double check for myself to be sure, but found nothing that suggests it’s in the wrong to have posted these. If you’re still not sure, you might want to read about a 2001 Supreme Court decision, Bartnicki v. Vopper, which bears quite a resemblence to this situation. Even further back, take a history lesson on the Pentagon Papers, where the courts sided on free speech in spite of illegally obtained, classified documents with supposed national security implications were published by the New York Times. The EFF has also posted an analysis of the situation, and citing the same case I mention, comes to quite the same conclusion. Even the McCain campaign statement was “we hope that anyone in possession of these e-mails will destroy them” – notice, it wasn’t “we demand these e-mails be destroyed.” With all due respect to the campaign, there’s only a little material here, it is of public concern, it is newsworthy, and isn’t remotely damning to your candidate. It’s public knowledge now, for better or worse. I of course don’t condone or reccomend anybody even attempting to violate anybody else’s privacy; it’s dispicable and cowardly regardless the situation. In the wake of the incident, some sites *have* taken it too far in my humble opinion – Gawker having posted Bristol Palin’s cell phone number so that folks could call it – even leaving a recording of her voicemail message on their website – is definitely crossing the line, and I’ll join in on saying “shame on you, Gawker.”
… lastly, on political slant, and this blog
After being called all sorts of names and accused of being all sorts of things, I did also want to remind anybody who had read the story here yesterday that I didn’t make political commentary one way or the other. I try to cover topics relating to technology, the Internet, and science on this little corner of the web. As such, the incidence was reported because it was a high profile breach in security on a popular e-mail service. That’s all, it was Internet related news to me just as much as it was political news. The posting wasn’t an attack on Palin, or on anybody for that matter.
When all is said and done, there really wasn’t anything incriminating or even all that INTERESTING found in these e-mails. Rebpulicans can relax knowing their gal won’t be incriminated by what was found, and democrats can relax knowing the truth will come out that this wasn’t an attack lobbed from their side either. As for any lingering conspiracy theorists, please understand this probably took all sides by complete surprise. The rest of us? Consider it a tounge-in-cheek stock tip: beat the down markets and economic crisis by investing in tinfoil hats.