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‘Free Julian Assange’: Trio of Idaho state websites taken over by hackers

Julian Assange, from Wikileaks, at the SKUP conference for investigative journalism, Norway, March 2010 (Espen Moe/Flickr)

Three Idaho government websites were hacked on Sunday evening to display a message calling for the release of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Idaho State Parks and Recreation, STEM Action Center and personal protective equipment supply site homepages each displayed the same content: a black background with the text “Hacked by Ghost Squad Hackers” displayed in blue text. “Free Julian Assange! Journalism is not a crime!” reads a message displayed underneath a GIF of V, the Guy Fawkes mask-wearing vigilante from the 2005 film “V for Vendetta.”

A Twitter account for Ghost Squad Hackers tweeted about the website takeover shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday. “Idaho government server hacked with #FreeAssange message,” the tweet said.

Ghost Squad Hackers is a collective of unidentified hackers, many of whom have roots with the “hacktivist” group Anonymous. The group’s de facto leader last month told Indian news website The Wire that the group’s “prime intent and focus is on anti-governmental and organisation cyber protests within current involvements of media speculation and real life happenings.” Recently it hacked Indian government sites, and the group has reportedly targeted the U.S. military and terrorist group ISIS in years past.

The Idaho Statesman has reached out to state information technology officials for comment. By 9 p.m. Sunday, no other state websites appeared to be affected.

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It’s not the first time state websites have been caught up in hacking incidents. In 2017, the state treasurer’s website was taken over with a pro-Islamic State message, and in 2018 the Idaho Legislature’s website was hacked with a message written in Italian and a video from hacker group AnonPlus. No sensitive data was compromised in either incident, but a 2016 hack of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game license database raised concerns that sensitive information may have been compromised.

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© 2020 The Idaho Statesman