TThroughout 2021, websites associated with far-right groups and extremist-friendly platforms and hosts suffered from data leaks and breaches that exposed the inner workings of far-right groups and the nature of the movement as a whole.
The data was exfiltrated through breaches designed by so-called “ethical hackers” – often aided by poor security practices on the part of website administrators – and by activists who broke into websites looking for information. data and information.
Experts and activists say attacks on their online infrastructure are likely to continue to disrupt and hamper far-right groups and individuals and make their activities unmasked much more likely – often drawing the attention of the forces order or loss of employment.
Many far-right groups have suffered catastrophic data breaches this year, possibly due to a lack of technical expertise among these activists. Jim Salter, systems administrator and tech reporter, said: “Extremists and pro-extremist entities have a noticeable shortage of even-tempered and thoughtful people doing thoughtful and even-tempered work to secure sites and manage staff. .
There are many examples.
In the aftermath of the January 6 attacks, the Guardian reported the leak of the American Patriots III% website, which identified all of the organization’s members.
In this case, a misconfiguration of the website allowed savvy researchers to view and repost the information on the open web.
In July, another organization affiliated with the Three Percenters, which watchdog organizations refer to as an anti-government group or part of the militia movement, leaked internal conversations that allegedly manifested a “thirst for violence”.
Then, in September, it emerged that the website of the anti-government group Oath Keepers had been completely hacked, with member lists, emails and what appeared to be their entire server content suddenly displayed publicly.
Data exfiltrated from this site was widely disseminated at a time when members of the organization were indicted or tried for their role in the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6.
The Guardian reported that the breach showed the group had seen an increase in membership after today’s events.
Another neo-Confederate group with ties to extremists, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, had its entire membership list unveiled this year after a self-proclaimed “hacktivist” provided the data to the Guardian.
While there have been many such breaches and leaks this year, 2021 could be seen as the year in which a wave of anti-fascist cyber activism peaked.
In recent years, extremist groups, including Patriot Front and The Base, have seen internal communications exposed by infiltrators.
Independent news organization Unicorn Riot published dozens of talks from far-right groups leaked by Discord, a chat app created for gamers that has become a preferred platform for extremists, especially for rally planning. Unite the Right in Charlottesville in 2017.
The hacking is all the more important as social media and chat platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have recently decided, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to exclude extremists from their platforms.
Events like Unite the Right and the attack on Capitol Hill put pressure on platforms like Discord, which banned hundreds of extremist servers in 2021.
The intermittent repressions have led some extremists to flock to so-called “alt-tech” platforms, which mimic some of the functions of big tech sites while advertising themselves to the far right with “free speech” policies. But these platforms were also attacked by hacktivists in 2021.
In the days leading up to the Capitol Riot, Speak, a Twitter-like site that billed itself as an online home for the right-wing Trumpist, leaked account details, videos, posts and more. documents.
After the riot, Parler’s data was used to identify rally participants and others who had entered the Capitol building.
Then, in March, Gab, a platform that had long hosted extremists banned from other platforms, was also hacked.
Gab had gained notoriety, among other things, for being the place where Robert Bowers announced his intention to attack the Tree of Life Synagogue in October 2018.
At the time of the breach, the Guardian reported that the data revealed the email addresses and other personal information of thousands of users, including investors and Gab’s verified accounts.
He also showed direct messages between Gab CEO Andrew Torba and QAnon influencer Richard Cornero Jr, who rose to prominence as Neon Revolt.
The hack was attributed to Gab introducing security vulnerabilities into their own platform while adapting an open source social media application for their own use.
Then in September, domain name registrar and web hosting provider, Epik, repeatedly viewed the entire content of its home server.
Epik had offered services of last resort to groups like neo-Nazi podcasters, The Right Stuff; sites like the QAnon hub and the extremist playground, 8chan; and even, for a while, Gab himself.
CEO Rob Monster has built his business on promising an all-round platform for such groups. The Guardian’s data inspection reveals that Monster – who worked as a domain name broker – had also speculated on dozens of domains that invoked the code words and concerns of the QAnon movement.
Megan Squire, a senior data analytics researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center, endorsed Salter’s assessment of the level of technical talent to the far-right when it comes to online security. She said: “A lot of people who are really qualified to do this job will not be willing to work with these people.”
While “the hacktivist ethic is well and truly on the left,” Salter added, pro-extremist hosts like Epik are unable to hire personnel who could help them build defensive capacity. She called Epik’s data design poor. “I haven’t seen anything this bad in my whole career,” she said,
Salter said all talented far-right technologists “tend to be heavily clustered around more offensive roles attacking others rather than defending – and more importantly, managing on a day-to-day basis – their own infrastructure.”
Given this deficit and the rise of hacktivism on the left, breaches like those seen last year seem likely to continue, she added.