A group of self-proclaimed "cyberterrorists" calling themselves the "Infektion Group" [sic] replaced the home pages of over 100 sites on the same server as the East Kingdom site with their own page protesting the U.S. election results. The defaced page read:
Infektion Group Owned You CYBER-TERRORISM The war of the lier Bush feeds the hate each day grows more and more! <email@example.com>
Below the text was a photographic image of the Brazilian flag. The word "owned" is a term used in hacker and cracker circles to indicate that a site's security has been compromised. Misspelled words, such as "liar" and "infection" in the above, are often intentionally part of so-called "hacker-speak" or "L337-speak" (pronounced elite-speak), a way to present an edgy image. The misspellings may also be due to the page having been created, apparently, by Brazilians, whose native language would most likely be Portuguese.
The click21.com.br domain belongs to a Brazilian company located in Rio de Janeiro, though of course there is no proof that the company knew anything about the attack, since anyone could have put that email address into a web page.
Robin Gallowglass, the East Kingdom Web Minister, says the attackers struck at about 12:53 a.m. US Eastern time, and that he first learned of the attack at about 8:00 a.m. "I was able," he says, "along with my fellow system administrators, to identify the vulnerability that was exploited and plug the hole. The defaced index pages were replaced from backups by approximately 9:30 a.m." Gallowglass says extensive backup precautions saved the day, and that he has an automated backup process that makes archival copies of the web page multiple times per day.
Gallowglass says that an unfortunate default setting in the security of the PHP web programming language was to blame. The PHP software itself had not failed, but the incorrect setting "allowed a file name for a included file to be either a path to a file on the local file system or a remote URL. This allowed the attackers to inject malicious PHP code that allowed them access to all the websites on the server." This sort of remote scripting exploit can happen in many web programming languages, and has been reported in numerous cases for both Linux and Microsoft web servers. In the case of this particular server, it was a Linux machine that was affected. The equivalent Microsoft technology, Active Server Pages (ASP), has been subject to the same kind of error in the past.
Gallowglass says that the server admistrators are careful about security, and blames poor documentation for the fact that this vulnerability "was missed in our periodic security audits." The vulnerable default setting has been changed, and Gallowglass and his colleagues took advantage of the server downtime to upgrade the Apache web server and the PHP programming language to their most recent security patch levels.
Computer security experts say that security is never perfect, in spite of a system owner's best efforts, and that off-site backups of important data are an essential part of site management because these are isolated geographically from the compromised system. In this incident, those off-site backups allowed fast recovery.