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Thirty-three year-old RyAnne Fultz, pictured here, is among the victims of the attack. Fultz suffered a severe seizure when her webpage was directed by attackers to a malicious page.  (Source: RyAnne Fultz)
Hackers commit the first known attack designed to cause physical harm on victims

Internet troublemakers, known as griefers, conducted an organized hack attack against an epilepsy support message board last weekend.  The attack, designed to inflict bodily injury, is the first known example of a large scale hack designed to inflict physical damage on the victims.  The attackers used injected JavaScript to trigger flashing images on the computers of their victims, causing them severe migraines and seizures.

The site is run and maintained by a nonprofit organization, the Epilepsy Foundation.  Its goal is to provide a place where epileptics and family members can provide each other with support.  The group had to close the site briefly on Sunday to remove the malicious code and beef up security.

Ken Lowenberg, senior director of web and print publishing at the Epilepsy Foundation states, "We are seeing people affected.  It's fortunately only a handful. It's possible that people are just not reporting yet -- people affected by it may not be coming back to the forum so fast."

Hackers launched the attack Saturday, March 22.  They used a script to generate hundreds of messages with flashing animated GIF files attached.  On Sunday the griefers upped their assault injecting JavaScript into many posts.  The script would redirect the users’ page to a complex image crafted to induce seizures.  The malefic page was specially designed to trigger seizures in both photosensitive and pattern-sensitive epileptics, two major classes of epilepsy.

One pattern sensitive epileptic, RyAnne Fultz, a 33-year old mother who regularly uses the group, was a victim of Sunday's attack.  After initially clicking an innocent sounding post, her screen was filled with a large pattern of blinking squares.  She says she "locked up".  Fultz who works IT Coeur d'Alene, Idaho explained, "I don't fall over and convulse, but it hurts.  I was on the phone when it happened, and I couldn't move and couldn't speak."

Fortunately, Fultz was rescued by her 11-year-old son who came into the room and forced her gaze away from the screen and killed the process.  Fultz emphasized how bad a seizure the attack caused, stating, "It was a spike of pain in my head.  And the lockup, that only happens with really bad ones. I don't think I've had a seizure like that in about a year."

Browen Mead, a 24-year-old epilepsy patient in Maine, suffered from a daylong migraine from the posts.  She said it was worsened by the fact that she lingered on the page, trying to figure out who was responsible.  She states, "Everyone who logged on, it affected to some extent, whether by causing headaches or seizures."

There is some circumstantial evidence that the attack was carried out by the group Anonymous, who gained public attention for their hacks on the Church of Scientology and successful protest campaign against the Church.  Anonymous was allegedly incensed by posts mentioning EBaums World, a site much despised by the group.  Those who believe Anonymous to be behind the attack point to a since-deleted post on 7chan.org; an Anonymous stronghold that allegedly organized the attack.

Despite their suffering, many epileptics expressed their support and appreciation for the site and the Epilepsy Foundation's work and response.  Said Fultz, "We all really appreciate them for giving us this forum and giving us this place to find each other."

Epilepsy comes in many forms with about 50 million people affected worldwide.  Approximately 3 percent are photosensitive meaning that flashing lights and colors can trigger seizures.  DailyTech had previously discussed proof-of-concept attacks on medical implants such as pacemakers, but this is the first known real world attack with the intent to physically injure.





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