Change.org, one of the most widely used petition websites, with over 35 million users in 196 countries, was hacked this weekend.
Unauthorized modifications that are said to have been “cosmetic” in nature were made Friday to twelve petitions hosted on the site, according to a spokesman for the organization.
No personal information was stolen, spokesman Benjamin Joffe-Walt said in a written statement. He added that none of the 12 petitions targeted had its number of signatures affected.
The modified petitions included one calling for officials to end the prosecution of a Florida teen charged in connection with a same-sex relationship with a 14-year-old; a petition to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay; and a petition and to allow gay Boy Scouts leaders, said Brianna Cayo-Cotter, a spokeswoman for Change.org.
The organization said its website was taken offline while a “minor vulnerability” exploited by a hacker was fixed. Apparently the hacker had modified text and photos on those twelve petitions after gaining access to the site.
The petition to end the prosecution of the Florida teen in question is likely for that of 18 year old Kaitlyn Hunt, a story that has made nationwide headlines in recent weeks. Her father, Steven Hunt, set up a Change.org petition over a week ago to “Stop the prosecution of an 18 year old girl in a same-sex relationship.”
Kaitlyn Hunt was expelled from Sebastian High School and arrested and charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a child 12 to 16 years of age after it was discovered she was in a consenting relationship with a 14 year old female student.
The hacker collective Anonymous has been outspoken in its support of Hunt, and has lobbied for the resignation of the officials involved in prosecuting the girl.
In the letter released by Anonymous, the group claims the Indian River County State Attorney’s Office has “lost perspective” and vows to put together a petition with 200,000 signatures on it calling for the resignation of the officials involved.
“The truth is, Kaitlyn Hunt is a bright young girl who was involved in a consensual, same-sex relationship while both she and her partner were minors. She has a big future ahead of her and there are people, thousands of people in fact, that have no intention of allowing you to ruin it with your rotten selective enforcement.”
The group also cites alleged intolerance by the younger girl’s parents. Kaitlyn’s mother had previously posted on a Facebook page, entitled “Free Kate,” that the girlfriend’s parents “conspired with police to entrap Kaitlyn” because they disapproved of the relationship.
Also mentioned by Change.org as one of the affected petitions was one to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
Threats from Anonymous and its “Operation Guantanamo” campaign, also known as #OpGTMO, recently forced the US military to shut down Wi-Fi access at the Guantanamo facility as a precautionary measure.
But Change.org does not believe that the affected petitions on its site were targeted for any particular reason related to the causes they represent. A spokesman said that the petitions were all in a featured section of the website and they believe that is why they were selected.
In 2012, hackers claiming support for a “Save the Arctic” campaign leaked the employee email addresses and passwords from five of the world’s prominent oil companies said to be drilling in the Arctic, and then used that information to add over 96,000 signatures to a Greenpeace “Save the Arctic” petition. The action drew criticism from some supporters at the time who worried it would invalidate the petition.
Change.org fared better in Friday’s incident. As noted, the affected petitions experienced no change in signatures as the result of the website’s intrusion.DONATE
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