A Penn student group says an international cyber organization hacked their website last month, replacing their homepage with a Turkish nationalist image.
The International Affairs Association runs a blog called "The Consul," which they said was recently hacked by a Turkish hacking group called Türk Hack Team.
The website's homepage was changed to a Turkish nationalist image with the quote "Attack Team, 29th October Operation" written in Turkish.
"The 29th of October is called republic day in Turkey,” explained Ethan Woolley, a College sophomore and The Consul’s chief of staff.
Türk Hack Team is a Turkish nationalist hacking organization that has a reputation for reacting against perceived slights to Turkey. The group, which claims to have recently hacked a string of universities across the globe, rose to prominence in 2015 when it shut down the Vatican's website in response to Pope Francis' comments describing Turkish killings of Armenians in World War I as genocide.
Woolley said Türk Hack Team may have targeted The Consul’s website because of an article that he wrote about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The article, titled "Washington, It's Time to Start Worrying About Turkey," critiques Erdoğan's crackdown on political opponents and encourages the United States not to leave his authoritarianism "unchecked."
Domestic protests against Erdoğan have peaked in recent months as the president continues to intimidate his political opponents and crackdown on the free press. In the United States, President Donald Trump has been criticized for his warm relations with the Turkish president.
The Consul's Chief of Layout and College senior Ilana Wurman discovered the hack two weeks ago. Wurman, a former Daily Pennsylvanian design editor, said The Consul’s lack of cyber security may have enabled the breach.
“We're not entirely sure what happened, but we didn't have a super secure login,” she said.
While concerning, Wurman said the hack didn’t appear to have caused any major damage to the site.
“It seemed to be more to cause trouble than do anything substantial. It's still a little unclear if they targeted us specifically because of the content or just because the site was easy to get into,” she said.
Woolley agreed, adding that the hack was ultimately more perplexing than it was harmful.
“In a weird way it was flattering, that they would go to the trouble to hack a student website at Penn,” he said.
IAA President and Wharton and Engineering senior Santosh Vallabhaneni said cyber security was never discussed prior to the hack, but now the group is bolstering the website's cyber security protections.
“We’ve beefed up security on our website. We added another layer of encryption to make it harder for people to hack in,” Vallabhaneni said.
The Türk Hack Team has previously claimed responsibility for various cyber attacks targeting organizations critical of the Turkish government.
Vallabhaneni emphasized that editors and writers for The Consul have no plans to change their content in light of the recent breach.
“If anything, it helps people understand that their articles are being read and being noticed. I don't think it's going to discourage anyone from continuing to voice their opinion on global events.”
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