Infamous neo-Nazi hacker-troll claims responsibility for racist, anti-Semitic fliers at UC Berkeley; FBI investigating
BERKELEY — Police at UC Berkeley are working with the FBI to investigate a cyberattack at campuses across the country after a notorious neo-Nazi troll claimed credit for sending racist, anti-Semitic fliers to the schools’ network-connected printers.
Staff members in a number of UC Berkeley departments reported last week that their office printers had spit out swastika-emblazoned fliers blaming Jews for destroying the country, calling on white men to join the “struggle for white supremacy” and referring them to a white supremacist website with the motto “Total Fascism.”
“We got one in our printer. I was pretty horrified,” said John McChesney-Young, an administrative assistant in the art history department. “I had no idea who would be doing this or where it would be coming from.”
McChesney-Young called campus police, who said Tuesday they were investigating the hacking, which highlighted the vulnerability of connected devices, known collectively as the Internet of Things.
“UC Berkeley was one of several universities nationwide whose network-connected printers received anti-Semitic fliers late last week,” said UC Berkeley police Sgt. Sabrina Reich, adding that the FBI is assisting university police with the investigation. The school’s Information Services and Technology department also is probing the printer-security breach, Reich said.
McChesney-Young found the flier Thursday morning. Over the weekend, an infamous “black hat” hacker, who might be better described as a “white hood” hacker, said online that he was responsible for the hack and the fliers. Andrew Auernheimer, who sports a large swastika tattoo on his chest, also explained how he accessed the printers, which, like thousands of electronic “things” connected to the Internet, were poorly secured.
Auernheimer said he used an online service called Masscan, which scours the Internet for open ports of entry into computerized devices. He wrote on Storify that more than a million printers were openly connected to the Internet.
“I thus embark upon a quest to deliver emotionally compelling content to other people’s printers,” Auernheimer wrote. “Of course, most of the printers that are on public networks belong to universities and colleges. These are of course ‘safe spaces’ which should never be violated with terrible wrongthink. What kind of a horrid person would trigger innocent people wrapped in a safe monoculture free of political dissent?”
Posting on the website 4chan, Auernheimer explained the content of the fliers. “You put a bunch of text on a page in a printer tray and nobody is going to read it,” he wrote. “You want a reaction? Big swastikas.”
The red-bearded Auernheimer goes by the online nickname “Weev” and told the Gawker gossip site in 2012 he has Jewish ancestry and is a converted Mormon. He went to prison after being convicted in 2012 of stealing the private information of 114,000 iPad users — including members of the House and Senate, employees of NASA and the Justice and Homeland Security departments, and celebrities. Some of the information was given to Gawker. Sentenced in November 2012 to 41 months in prison, Auernheimer got out in April 2014, after his conviction was overturned on a technicality.
On 4chan, Auernheimer rejected the notion that he became a white supremacist in prison. He directed readers toward his “first public white nationalist post” from 2008, which attacked blacks and Jews.
To get the unprotected printers to cough up his fliers, Auernheimer sent them postscript code, he said. At UC Berkeley, staff in several departments reported the appearance of the fliers, posted messages on an open IT mailing list site about the breach, and discussed the security problem that allowed Auernheimer’s hack. University security supervisor Allison Henry suggested school staff members brush up on security protocols and “put measures in place to restrict access to printers from the public Internet.” Printers at more than a dozen U.S. universities spat out Auernheimer’s fliers.
On Monday, McChesney-Young in the UC Berkeley art history department found another flier on the printer, this one taking aim at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people. It was purportedly from an association of Internet hacker-trolls of which Auernheimer is a former president. McChesney-Young had by that time found out Auernheimer had claimed responsibility for the first flier. “When I got the second one I just laughed at it,” McChesney-Young said. “He’s really more pathetic than anything else.”
Auernheimer said on 4chan that his printer hack was legal. “These were printers on the open internet. No network penetration took place. I wrote no special tools to do this,” he said.
The FBI declined to comment on the investigation.
Auernheimer is American, but his whereabouts are unclear. His 4chan posts feature a Ukrainian flag, but he said online he was not in Ukraine. Online posts indicate that since release from prison he has lived in Lebanon and Serbia.
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