PBS sites hacked by Tupac-loving WikiLeaks supporters

Dylan Stableford
May 31, 2011

A group of hackers irked by a recent "PBS Frontline" documentary on suspected WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning retaliated over the weekend, throttling PBS websites and posting a fake news story—claiming the late rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls were "alive and well" and living in New Zealand. Shortly after it went live, the hacked material quickly went viral--no doubt the outcome the hackers had been hoping for.

PBS pulled the story early Monday after it was posted late on Sunday night. But by then it had already been indexed by Google--so the "news" of Biggie and Tupac's Kiwi survival spread via Twitter and Facebook.

The hackers then posted thousands of stolen passwords and account information for PBS employees and its affiliates. PBS assured visitors that "no personal information or email addresses were compromised in any way during the incident."

The group claiming credit for the attack, Lulzsec, was purportedly the same group behind similar attacks earlier this month on Fox Television and Sony's Japanese website.

"FREE BRADLEY MANNING," the group blared on one of the hacked PBS pages. "F*CK FRONTLINE!"

The documentary, "Wiki Secrets," which aired on May 24, was criticized by Julian Assange and his supporters for "misrepresenting" WikiLeaks and "[trying] to build an 'espionage' case against its founder."

According to Wired's Threat Level blog, during the Fox hack Lulzsec "stole and posted 363 employee passwords, the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of 73,000 people who had signed up for audition information for the upcoming Fox talent show 'The X-Factor.' "

As PBS attempted to thwart the attack on its website, the network used its Twitter and Tumblr accounts to keep its audience updated on the progress.

"As websites for the NewsHour, Frontline and PBS remain under attack by hackers," one tweet read, "NewsHour has published its transcripts and videos from Monday night's broadcast to Tumblr for the time being."

"Thanks for your concern," Teresa Gorman, PBS' social media coordinator, wrote on her personal feed. "We are aware there is more than the Tupac story being hacked right now."

UPDATE: PBS issued this statement on Tuesday: "Yesterday there was an intrusion to PBS' servers. The erroneous information posted early yesterday morning on the PBS NewsHour site was corrected. The intruders also posted login information to an outdated version of PBS PressRoom and an internal communications website for stations. We have notified stations and affected parties to advise them of the situation. As the hackers continued their attacks yesterday, the Frontline and PBS NewsHour sites were redirected to video.pbs.org. The websites have since been restored."