Hacking collective Lulz Security took over the website of News Corp. tabloid the Sun last night, taking credit for the attack via a tweet: "We had joy, we had fun, we have messed up Murdoch's Sun."
Visitors to the Sun's site were initially redirected to a false report that 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch, chairman-CEO of News Corp., had been found dead in his garden, having ingested a large quantity of a rare metal called palladium. Later visitors were directed to the LulzSec Twitter feed, where LulzSec tweeted contact details and passwords for a bunch of News International staff, including Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper division, News International.
The hoax story did not create alarm about Mr. Murdoch's fate, but the hacking -- believed to be the first time a British newspaper site has been infiltrated in this way -- got the reaction that the subversive, mischievous hacktivists at LulzSec were looking for.
As the night wore on, and LulzSec fed off support from their 328,000 followers, the tweets got more explicit. "Arrest us. We dare you. We are the unstoppable hacking generation and you are a wasted old sack of shit, Murdoch." Another said, "Thank you for the love tonight. we couldn't sit by . watching this walnut-faced Murdoch clowning around."
News International, News Corp.'s British newspaper division, temporarily took down the Sun site as well as its corporate web page and the site for its broadsheet newspaper, the Times, as a precaution. The newspaper sites were restored within hours, but the newsinternational.co.uk site was not restored until this morning.
LulzSec's Twitter account is called "The Lulz Boat," promising "high-quality entertainment at your expense." On its website, LulzSecurity describe itself as "a small team of individuals who feel the drabness of the cyber community is a burden on what matters: fun."
Previous LulzSec victims include Sony, Nintendo and InfraGard, a private-sector affiliate of the FBI. In May, LulzSec hacked the PBS website with a fake story about rapper Tupac being alive and living in New Zealand.
Rupert Murdoch along with his son James and protege Rebekah Brooks are today undergoing a grilling at a parliamentary select committee hearing to answer questions about phone hacking at the News of the World. The newspaper was shut down after 168 years in print because the brand had become irredeemably toxic after the revelation that it had hacked the voicemail of a missing teenage girl who was later found dead.
News International and LulzSec did not respond to inquiries.
Mr. Murdoch's death may have been fake, but the phone-hacking scandal claimed a tragic real-life death on the same day. Sean Hoare, a respected journalist and former show business editor of the News of the World, was found dead at his home. He had a history of drug and drinking problems. Police said that his death is "unexplained but not suspicious."
Mr. Hoare, who was in his late 40s, was the whistleblower who last year blew the lid on the whole scandal, which until then News International had managed to subdue, despite efforts from journalists at the Guardian newspaper. He told The New York Times that the News of the World's former editor -- then the communications adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron -- had actively encouraged him to hack into voicemails and knew, despite his denials, that the practice was widespread at the newspaper.