Vandalism on Wikipedia is not any new incident but this time it was massive. Tens of thousands of articles carried a symbol popularly used by the Nazi army in the past. Reportedly, the Wikipedia hacker targeted the pages of celebrities, political figures, artists, and writers. They were replaced with full-screen images of black and white swastikas on a bright red background. The users noted the anomaly and made it viral on social media.
Reportedly the pages affected also included Madonna, Johnny Depp, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Terry Pratchett, Joseph Stalin, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Joe Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Wikipedia administrators resolved the issue within few minutes after it occurred around 10 AM ET on Monday, 16th August.
How Wikipedia Hacker was Able to Do this?
In previous attempts, vandals usually targeted content on a particular article. For instance, in 2006 one gamer typed “Nintendo sucks” in the Description of the company. This Wikipedia hacker instead got access to edit a template that was being used on more than 50,000 pages. According to the reports, the vandalized pages were protected and supposed to have a stronger defense from these kinds of attacks.
Admins noted an unusual weakness in their platform’s content moderation policies which they claim to be “airtight”. The digital encyclopedia kept its most used templates locked from random editing but apparently, some of them became editable after some tweaks. The vandal bypassed certain weak protections by making the security protocol think that those articles were not popular enough to have such protections.
Response from Admins
The admins admitted that a weakness that allowed vandalism on 50,000 articles was a huge gap in security. A lot of their pages were not template-protected which allowed a hack of this nature. Wikipedia team could not explain how some templates managed to escape their security protection. However, they exclaimed that any template with at least 1000 hypertext inclusions must be protected.
Admins described the attack as a vile action that violates their several policies. This is why the attacker was being called a Wikipedia hacker rather than just a vandal. Wikipedia admins are quick in taking action but still sometimes miss the moderation of templates.
Who is the Person Responsible?
Wikipedia hacker was a new user who just joined 10 days before launching this attack. He initially built goodwill on the page by making important edits. The responsible account has now been blocked and banned from using Wikipedia. The volunteers changed the template to ensure its protection from further attacks. Site admins also protected more templates and announced to evaluate if any more actions were required.
Wikipedia team assured that they have developed different processes and tools to quickly spot and reverse vandalism, despite the enormous size of the site.