When Gawker Got Hacked

Kashmir Hill frames the story:

It’s your chance to gawk at Gawker. The gossip site that has mastered the art of invading other people’s privacy with exclusives on everything from Apple’s prototype iPhone 4 to pictures of Brett Favre’s, um, “pigskin” has had its own privacy invaded this weekend.

A group of hackers, calling themselves Gnosis, broke into Gawker’s databases over the last week, and are releasing staff and reader passwords, site source code, and internal messages online. “Your servers, Your database’s [sic], Online accounts and source code have all be ripped to shreds!” write the hackers on Pirate’s Bay where the torrent file of Gawker data has been posted.

Felix Salmon explains what it means:

Gawker’s commenters were operating under the understanding that they were anonymous; now, at least 188,000 of them, and probably more in coming days, can be associated with an email address. Some of those emails are the kind of “stealth Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail account” recommended by Gawker; many others are not and can easily be traced to an individual. Gawker has said that it’s “deeply embarrassed by this breach”, but a much more heartfelt apology is needed. I can imagine more than a few commenters on Gawker and Wonkette and Fleshbot who would be mortified or possibly even fired if their identities became public. And already a list of .gov email/password combinations is being passed around to see whether those same passwords will unlock state secrets elsewhere.

A separate question is how damaging this all is to Gawker Media itself. Nick Denton might fancy himself a technologist, but I can’t remember a technology company ever being this comprehensively hacked, even unto the public distribution of the source code of its products. Gawker’s spent the past year carefully researching and developing its new web architecture, known internally (and now to the whole world) as the “GANJA framework”. Even if rival web publishers don’t shamelessly and illegally copy-and-paste large chunks of the source code, they are now able to see very easily how to put this kind of website together and to avoid the many dead ends which Gawker’s tech team undoubtedly ran into while building this site.

Gawker has a FAQ page up here. And the hackers explain what motivated them here.