Pastebin Leaks vs. Modern Journalism

Yesterday was very amusing, a hacker named SgtBilko420 hijacked the upcoming leak of Ku Klux Klan member names by releasing a list of names that pretty much had nothing to do with the KKK. That isn’t the amusing part, stay with me.

Anonymous vs. the KKK

Anonymous as a hacker group, hacktivist group, whatever you want to call them, are a large group that is loosely organized. I want to emphasize that they are LOOSELY organized, and not every member of the group or those with Twitter admin posting privileges necessarily know what the other members are doing. Someone from the main Anonymous Twitter account shared the Pastebin links by SgtBilko420 and by doing so gave credibility to those links.

Anonymous Tweets KKK Links

What is Pastebin? Pastebin is like a Wordprocessor website, where you paste text, and the text just lives there on their site. In this case the paste included names and phone numbers of prominent politicians who supposedly were found to be members of the KKK. Among them was out and proud Mayor of Lexington, Kentucky Jim Gray, and former associate of Caesar Chavez Madeline Rogero (D) of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Rogero posted the following to Facebook:

“So, just to be clear, for anyone who doesn’t know me: Don’t be ridiculous,” the mayor continued. “I began my political career working for the rights of farm workers with Cesar Chavez. I have spent decades working for causes of social justice and equality. As Mayor, I have pushed for diversity in our workforce and outreach to and inclusion of people of all backgrounds in our community.

In short, I don’t think the KKK would want anything to do with me.”

Rogero did at least display some humor about the false leak stating: “On a positive note, I do appreciate that they are using a picture of me from 12 years ago. Very flattering!”

Needless to say the accusations by SgtBilko420 that were given credibility by the main Anonymous account, were completely false.

Some have speculated that the bad information was spread by “disinformation agents” to discredit the actual leak of KKK member names that is to follow on November 5th (Guy Fawkes Day). This is entirely possible, don’t get me wrong, though if I was a betting man I would say the false leak was simply a troll from someone who was really bored and got a kick out of making such a stir.

Pastebin's Trending List on 11/3/15

Anonymous Tweets About Pastebin Trends

The false leaked content was trending on Pastebin, to the point where the main Anonymous account tweeted to brag about how the leak was “dominating on pastebin”. The top five most viewed Pastebin entries (seen above) contained various parts of the leaked content with a combined hit count of over 1.3 Million.

But Matthew, where is the amusing part? You promised us the amusing part!

Enter… the modern journalist. Regardless of any fact checking or reviewing the official @Operation_KKK Twitter profile to see if they were claiming this to be their actual leak, journalists began to print stories claiming that these various politicians were “outted as members of the KKK”.

After the website traffic that was created during the Ashley Madison leak back in August, I’m sure reporters and editors alike began to salivate at the idea of getting a bunch of advertising revenue from the increase in traffic related to another drama unfolding around a hacker’s leak. It’s even better this time because it involves racism!

Racism sells papers! Horray! Get this online!

The Alabama focused news site published an article which stated: “The hacktivist group Anonymous has begun publishing personal details of members of the Ku Klux Klan, including information allegedly connected to groups in Alabama.” Even at the time of this writing the article has not been updated to reflect that Anonymous had nothing to do with the leaked names, and that the leaked names also had nothing to do with the KKK.

The Washington Times also published an article without updating it as more information became available stating that “Anonymous begins dumping alleged KKK contact info“. Nothing in that headline is true, but the article remains on their website.

The International Business Times UK posted something similar, The Root posted something similar again erroneously stating: “The hacktivist group Anonymous has published the email addresses and phone numbers of supposed Ku Klux Klan members, including the names of four senators and five city mayors.” Which again, is completely false. At the time of writing this there are 520 articles on Google News talking about the KKK leak by Anonymous.

There are graphical memes being created because of this, competing politicians are taking advantage of a public who is really only skimming these articles and believe whatever they read in a headline. Twitter accounts have picked up the fake leak and are distributing information such as the one bellow that are claiming these folks are members of the KKK.

John Cornyn is NOT in the KKK

The impact of this false leak, and the impact of the actual Anonymous sponsored leak that is coming on November 5th will likely be felt for a good long while, especially in a politically charged election season. Was the leak powered by disinformation agents wanting to discredit the real leak before it comes? Was it competing hackers wanting to prank Anonymous, or simply an internet troll with too much time on their hands? We may never know.

What I take away from this is the importance of securing your data. We live in an era of whistleblowers and hacktavists who want as much data as they can get to out companies, individuals, anyone doing something dishonest or in this case being a member of a group like the KKK. These leaks often lead to real honest good change, but at what cost?

Even if you have nothing to hide, you want to be the house with the lights off when those hackers come around to Trick Or Treat for vulnerable data. We have seen websites hacked where the hacker wanted to include spammy links to their own sites, and these have lead to Malware alerts from the Norton’s and McAfee’s of the world.

If your data is compromised, again even if you’re not so dramatic as a member of the KKK, you’re still vulnerable to identity theft. If your employees data is stolen you may be liable for not securing that data properly, etc.

With all due respect to Anonymous for the good work they usually do, I do hold their Twitter admins responsible for spreading those links before they were verified, they are directly responsible for the confusion. They have tweeted clarifications on the leak and it’s pretty clear they have been taking a lot of crap because of this false leak, but as a casual observer we should take away from this that these groups are disorganized to the point where if they had your data you wouldn’t know who or where that data might wind up.

Tweet from @Operation_KKK

The real leak is still coming, and Lord only knows what’ll hit the fan when the #HoodsOff movement fully kicks in. Will it be true members of the KKK or just another list of false names who will have to defend themselves?

Time will tell.