Oct. 1, 2007 -- The Web site of Republican presidential hopeful California Rep. Duncan Hunter was hacked into sometime Sunday night from overseas and altered with anti-Iraq War images.
Under the "Duncan Hunter for President '08" banner, visitors to gohunter08.com today saw a graphic informing them that the site had been "hacked by Adnali f0r TurkStorm [dot] org No War!" Underneath were grainy images of young children in what appeared to be a war zone, one sitting in front of a tank and another with his bloody head wrapped in gauze.
Hunter, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, is perhaps the staunchest defender of the Iraq War in the Republican presidential field.
The Web site turkstorm.org is registered in Turkey, but through an IP address in Germany. At the Web site are only the words "yakinda online." An exhaustive Google search unearths no clear indication who exactly hacked the site and whether they are associated with a particular group, but apparently shows Adnali to be a prolific hacker, though not always of political sites.
A message sent to an e-mail address associated with turkstorm.org has gone unanswered.
Cyberwar of the Political Campaign
Sunday's cyberattack was the sixth time in recent months that hackers had attempted to alter the gohunter08.com site, said Roy Tyler, Hunter's spokesman. However, this was the first time the hackers successfully altered the campaign Web site for a lengthy period of time.
Tyler was unaware of the hacking midmorning today, but by noon, the campaign had pulled the anti-war message off the Web site.
"It is the cyberwar of the political campaign," said Ravi Singh, CEO of ElectionMall.com, the firm that developed Hunter's Web site.
Singh said the firm also had detected and fought off hackers Wednesday.
In addition to the frustration of having a campaign's carefully crafted message altered or reversed on its official Web site, there is the added risk that with online fundraising taking off, hackers might be after more than a political statement.
Campaigns Increasingly Raise Funds Online
Candidates have been in a mad rush to raise fundraising dollars and are increasingly relying on the Web to draw in campaign money.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, boasted of raising $1.2 million in the last week of September alone, all from online contributions. The campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said today that it has raised $19 million in the third quarter and reporters have been told those contributions came from more than 500,000 different contributors — many who donated online.
Campaigns usually encrypt the fundraising sections of their Web sites and use secure connections to ensure the financial information of contributors is safe.
But that assumes the contributor is on the correct Web site. Ever try to find out something about the White House and surf accidentally to http://www.WhiteHouse.com instead of http://www.WhiteHouse.gov?
Depending on traffic, a spoof site can end up looking legitimate in a Web search.
Hunter's Campaign Has Been Lagging in National Polls
The cyberattack may bring some publicity to Hunter's campaign —, which has been lagging in national polls. Hunter has been in the presidential campaign longer than any officially announced candidate, but his bid for the Republican nomination has not taken off, despite his conservative credentials.
But, in recent months things have been looking up, ever so slightly. Hunter won a straw poll in Texas and, though he was the only candidate to take part in the poll, it showed he has some organizational strength in the Lone Star state.
Hunter came in second to last at the Iowa Straw Poll in August, finishing behind several candidates who skipped that test of organizational strength in the first caucus state.
Many Variation of Hackers
Hacking is not a new phenomenon in campaigns and Singh said there are many variations of hacker.
The issue hacker: It remains unclear who hacked Hunter's Web site, but it appears the perpetrators oppose U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Singh said it does not appear any of Hunter's online data was compromised.
The revenge hacker: In May, an American hijacked Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's Myspace page and, in a faux letter posted on the page, announced that McCain was going to support gay marriage (McCain does not). In that case, Internet entrepreneur Mike Davidson claimed responsibility because he said the McCain camp was using Davidson's Myspace page template without attribution.
The prankster hacker: In February, the "virtual headquarters" of former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards was hacked in the virtual online world on "Second Life," allegedly by virtual Republicans. People who unduly alter Wikipedia entries might fall into this category as well.
The thief hacker: Candidates have not been immune from so-called "phishing" — fraudulent e-mails soliciting contributions from Web sites set up to look like the real article. In August 2004, Sen. John Kerry's campaign was beset by a phishing operation and it was never determined exactly how many Kerry supporters had given money to the fake Kerry Web site.
States Concerned About Cyberattacks
The state of Kentucky commissioned Singh to institute a program to certify campaign Web sites for the Nov. 6 state election.
It has been difficult for state officials to market the program, said Les Fugate, Kentucky's deputy assistant secretary of state. But state officials thought it was a necessary test program after several spoof sites that could have confused voters were discovered during the primaries.
Now, Kentucky voters are encouraged to link to a candidate's site from the Kentucky state Web site. At the bottom of campaign Web sites in Kentucky is a security seal that certifies the Web site is legitimate and a safe place to give money.
Singh said as soon as his company figures out how to stop a hacker — it monitors the IP addresses of visitors and repeated visits make them suspicious of a surfer, he said — the technology and techniques evolve quickly.
Hunter's experience today is unlikely to be an isolated event this election cycle.