Editorial: Downtown Devil bouncing back after persistent webpage hacking

The Downtown Devil's website was hacked multiple times over the past two weeks, displaying pages like this one. (Screen capture by Jessica Zook/DD)
The Downtown Devil‘s website was hacked multiple times over the past two weeks, displaying pages like this one. (Screen capture by Jessica Zook/DD)

Over the course of the past two weeks, the Downtown Devil faced an unpleasant truth about operating an all-online news publication: Some men just want to watch the world burn.

On Tuesday, Jan. 29, our website was hacked and began to display a webpage that was not our own. Around the same time, most of our blogs — including inactive ones — were accessed and began displaying similar pages.

We immediately set to work fixing the problem. Phone calls were made to our Web hosting company, passwords were reset then reset again, and by the morning of Jan. 30, we had everything back up and running.

Or so we thought.

Unfortunately, hackers don’t always go away after the first attack, and such was the case for the Downtown Devil.

The next day, our blogs were down again, this time displaying just text on a white background. Again, we sprang to action and the blogs were all fixed within half an hour.

But it was just the beginning.

Friday — the day after all the blogs had once again been hacked — our popular Vanishing Phoenix blog began displaying an abnormal password submission field. And nothing else. We tried figuring out the problem, but nothing was accomplished by Sunday.

And that’s when things got bad.

Our main website displayed a hacked webpage, announcing that the hackers responsible could see the admin of the website and even playing a looped hip-hop beat. This was the big one.

Not only was the main page of our website down, but every post and page on our domain had been replaced with the hacked webpage.

Sunday night’s hacking was not going to be easily undone, so the managing editors decided to put up a temporary website so we could continue publishing while we fixed our real website.

Throughout the week, the managing editors and the publishers have been hard at work to achieve this end, and yesterday we published on our partially debugged website. Today, we believe we have patched the website entirely.

Knock on wood.

I like to think this hacking business is just the sad irony of life online. If you are successful and gain a following, you become a target for hackers who want to gain ‘cred’ amongst their ‘l33t h4x0r’ friends — credibility in the eyes of other hackers, for those who don’t speak the language.

If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t necessarily be complaining. After all, we aren’t the only news organization to have come under cyber-attack in the past couple weeks. As Heidi Moore of the Guardian tweeted:

Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and the Downtown Devil? Not bad, indeed.

But all jokes and memes aside, I would like to apologize to any of our readers who had the misfortune of visiting our site while it was displaying a hacked webpage. To our knowledge, the hackers did not upload any viruses that could spread to your computers, and we hope the only damage was that of shock when loud music began playing upon loading the hacked webpage.

I would also like to thank all of you who stood by us, visited our temporary website and waited patiently for us to get back on our feet. Our community is what makes our publication, and in our time of turbulence this community gave a refreshingly firm outpouring of support and sympathies.

So thank you to all of our readers, and we hope that new safeguards put in place can keep us in the clear from any future hackings. But if we are unsuccessful and end up hacked once more, remember that they only do it for the lulz.

Don’t hesitate to laugh it off.

Contact the writer at mauro.whiteman@asu.edu