Life During Cyberwartime: Brands as Targets -- and Vulnerable Victims

Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week

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For this week's Trendrr charticle -- a collaboration between Advertising Age and social-media tracking service Trendrr -- a look at so-called hacktivism. Some notes:

  • Everybody's talking about Amazon, MasterCard, Visa and PayPal -- plus McDonald's, Walgreens and Gawker -- for all the wrong reasons.
  • The first four, of course, became targets of pro-WikiLeaks hacker activists -- hacktivists -- who wanted to punish them ("Operation Payback") for withdrawing their services from the embattled secret-document dispensary. (Amazon had been renting server space to WikiLeaks, while MasterCard, Visa and PayPal had been offering payment services to WikiLeaks that allowed supporters to make donations to the organization.) Of those four, MasterCard and Visa, arguably, took the hardest hits as hackers temporarily brought their sites down -- though not their point-of-purchase systems -- last week. PayPal seems to have held up OK under hacker fire, while Amazon claims that a brief weekend European outage was due to a hardware glitch, not hackers.
  • The others on the list? They're getting hacked for -- well, just because they can be, it seems. Hackers have obviously been inspired by the pro-WikiLeaks attacks; making some kind of statement or championing a particular ideology now seems, a week later, almost quaint. Why climb Mount Everest? Because it's there -- and it's big. Why hack Gawker or Walgreens or McDonald's? Same answer.
  • Walgreens had its email list hacked; it hasn't revealed the number of exposed customers, but it's the second-largest drugstore chain in the U.S. The Walgreens breach may actually be related to the McDonald's breach -- because both farm out their email-marketing management, apparently to the same company. (See: McDonald's, Walgreens Learn Joys Of Third-Party E-Mail Breaches.)
  • What's going on here? "The breach is with Silverpop, an email-service provider that has over 105 customers," a special agent in the FBI's Atlanta field office told The Register. "It appears to be emanating from an overseas location."
  • Trendrr
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    Recent hourly tweet volume about hacker targets PayPal (crimson), MasterCard (orange) and Gawker (purple)
  • The biggest loser in the current hackathon may well be Gawker and its sibling sites. The New York Observer calls the attack on Gawker Media (which is unrelated to the Silverpop situation) "the biggest security breach of a media site ever," noting that hackers "published the source code of Gawker's proprietary content-management system, making it worthless, and unleashed details on 1.3 million commenter accounts, including 188,279 decrypted passwords. That meant that people who had commented on stories on Gawker sites, thinking their opinions were anonymous, weren't." The Observer's coverage, written by Nick Summers and headlined Turning Gawker On Itself, is a must-read, if only because of its dramarific shadings (e.g., "What truly terrifies the Gawker staff is that Sunday's data dump was only the beginning of a WikiLeaks-style flood. ... It follows that any staffers who used the same password for both the Gawker blogging and email platforms have had their in-boxes monitored, too -- and possibly even downloaded in their entirety. These are emails that contain stories in progress, the identities of anonymous sources and God knows what else.")
  • As the New York Post points out about the "Gawkward" (ha!) situation, "Those affected by the Gawker hack hail from every corner of the media business, including The New York Times, NBC Universal and talent agency CAA, according to a list of more than 100,000 user names and email addresses obtained by The Post."
  • If there's any consolation Gawker Media founder/owner Nick Denton can take from the breach, it's that now the world really knows just how big -- and intimately intertwined with the larger media world -- his empire is. His blog network, remarkably, has more than 1.3 million registered commenters. The FBI has gotten involved in investigating the breach. And chatter on Twitter about Gawker's crisis, at its peak (roughly 1,800 tweets an hour), was almost on par with that of PayPal at its peak. Gawker, a brand that has always treasured its scrappy, outsider standing is now, clearly, basically mainstream -- simply one more notorious major media brand.

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Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week is produced in collaboration with Wiredset, the New York digital agency behind Trendrr.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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