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The Gnosis group apparently faced few defenses in what it called a revenge attack on the prominent online media property.

Mathew J. Schwartz

December 21, 2010

2 Min Read

How did Gawker, a leading media property, get hacked, resulting in more than 1.3 million of its users' accounts getting publicly released and uploaded to file-sharing Web sites?

A group known as Gnosis said it came gunning for Gawker, according to Mediaite. "It took us a few hours to find a way to dump all their source code and a bit longer to find a way into their database," said the group.

Apparently, the attackers faced few defenses in what it described as a revenge attack.

An internal memo from Gawker Media CTO Thomas Plunkett to employees suggests as much, tracing the ease of the exploit to Gawker's poor security preparation. "On several fronts -- technically, as well as customer support and communication -- we found ourselves unprepared to handle this eventuality," said Plunkett's memo, which Jim Romenesko reprinted on the Poynter Web site.

According to Plunkett, the attackers exploited a vulnerability in its Web site source code. But Gawker had no processes in place to deal with that scenario and wasn't monitoring for signs of attack.

"The tech team should have been better prepared, committed more time to perform thorough audits, and grown our team's technical expertise to meet our specific business needs," said Plunkett.

Web sites affected by the breach included Gawker, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, Deadspin, io9, and Fleshbot.

By late last week, Gawker said it had regained control of all systems, including Google Apps. Plunkett said all Web site code had been reviewed for known vulnerabilities, that they had been addressed, and that a more extensive code audit was also underway.

Gawker has also implemented a new security policy, which precludes sharing sensitive information on the company wiki or via chat software. In addition, it enabled SSL for Google Apps, and will require anyone who needs to access sensitive information stored in Google Apps to use two-factor authentication.

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz

Contributor

Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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