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Misplaced trust: hacking, punking and birthers

I was looking at Birther Report this morning, and noticed the article about their acquiring a new server (mentioned by commenters here previously). I and others have expressed some skepticism about the ability of Birther Report to remain secure once it leaves the Google umbrella and goes to a privately-owned server. The particular words from the author Helen Tansey that caught my attention were:

This process includes hiring a trusted programmer who will manage the migration from Blogger to the new server.

I don’t think birthers are very good at knowing whom to trust. Birther Report regularly publishes articles that are nonsense. They use advertising providers who let themselves get hacked, resulting in BR having been a vector for malware.

Of course, the poster child for misplaced trust is probably Orly Taitz who is regularly punked by commenters on her blog, filed no less than two fake birth certificates in court, and allowed malware to be placed on her web site on multiple occasions. Searching for “hacked” on this site returned more hits for Taitz than for any other. Taitz ended up suing her former webmaster (I express no opinion on the merits of that suit). Orly also claims to be hacked when she hasn’t been.

I put Mike Zullo in the number 2 position. While Zullo’s failures are not as transparent as Taitz’, it appears that he’s been fooled many times. He trusted the various birther document forensic volunteers much to his embarrassment. First there was Mara Zebest, who showed basic misunderstanding of technical details, and then Garrett Papit who led the Posse into false declarations about PDF files, the ones debunked by a Xerox machine. One also must at least wonder at the money spent by Zullo on the Reed Hayes report, which is yet to be released. Zullo’s biggest lapse in judgment was when he believed the fake 1961 vital statistics manual and then made it the centerpiece of his 2nd press conference. I should add that the Cold Case Posse web site itself was hacked last December, apparently because they used old software and didn’t apply security patches. They also went down a couple of time when they didn’t pay their bills. Whoever was entrusted with the site didn’t do a responsible job.

Phil Berg’s site was hacked too.

I think most of the birther and anti-birther web sites are hosted by blog providers, either Google Blogger™ or WordPress.com. These will shield their users from most forms of hacking except for third-party advertising that got Birther Report. For this reason, we don’t see a lot of hacking on these sites. Orly, however, runs her own software, as did Berg and the Zullo. I run my own software and the Fogbow does also.

I don’t want to make too big a deal about a birther site getting hacked: “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” the saying runs. A while back, the URL shortening service used my Twitter feed got hacked. That didn’t affect my visitors, but I did have to change URL shortening providers (Twitter does this automatically now). Someone else who runs a site on the same server as I, was hacked and started sending spam. I do some of the basic anti-hacking stuff like obfuscating database tab names, using secret keys in cookies and always installing the current versions of all the software I use.

BR “begging letter” from Helen Tansey

“The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth, are people with something to hide.”

So rather than begging for money himself, the anonymous Birther Report is letting Helen Tansey, treasurer of the Article II Super PAC1, do it for him–the project: ostensibly to raise funds to move the web site from the hyper-reliable free Google Blogger™ platform to an “independent secure server.” That way, Google can’t take him down again.

Is that a good thing for BR readers? I personally would be grateful if someone took my site down, should I ever start serving malware to visitors. While the clueless BR site owner was running around the Internet saying his site was OK, Google protected BR readers from some nasty malware being passed through from one of BR’s advertisers. Terms of service and acceptable use policies protected BR’s readers the a way that a privately-run server could not.

Tansey paints a picture of someone who started blogging for altruistic purposes, saying:

It is difficult for a blog owner who never weighed into blogging to make money from his readers to now be in the position of having to ask for donations.

That’s an odd description for a heavily-monetized web site like Birther Report. It’s full of aggressive advertising, a fact Tansey glosses over. What I find suspicious is that while asking for donations to move the site, at no time has BR actually stated how much money he needs.2 Tansey claims that it is:

1. To purchase its own web server (not leased) that will more than handle the site’s high traffic load; and 2. Complete the conversion/migration process in order to securely archive4 the thousands of articles documenting Article II eligibility and Obama’s identity document fraud.

Earlier BR had put it this way:

This blog will be moved to a privately owned server [without TOS BS] as soon as possible. It is something that should have been done long ago but lacked the knowledge and resources. More at a later date….

Buying a whole server for a piss-ant web site like Birther Report is massive overkill. But then BR keeps its traffic numbers as secret as it does its expenses and advertising revenue. What are they hiding? This is in contrast to my site, where all that information is public. I listened to BR’s anonymous appearance on the Mike Volin “Where’s Obama’s Birth Certificate?” show and it was clear that he does not have the technical competence to run anything on his own, much less an entire server. That leaves, as I see it, two possibilities:

  1. BR is going to buy a server and have it co-located at a hosting company that will manage it for him.3
  2. He’s going to buy a server and hook it up himself at home and have a good buddy run it for him. He’s talking like 20 minutes before he’s hacked.

Frankly, if I weren’t a computer hobbyist, I would never run my own WordPress installation, much less my own server—it’s just too much trouble and too much risk. I would be running at WordPress.com or Blogger™, like most of the folks who blog on either side of the birther issue. They’re free and easy, and far more reliable :(

In a follow-up article today, Tansey describes reader fundraising response as “awesome” and said they have reached one-third of their goal (still refusing to disclose what that goal is). I would remind them of the tag line from Barack Obama at the beginning of every Birther Report video: “The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth, are people with something to hide.” Birther Report doesn’t disclose the identity of its owner, its traffic figures, its backers, its revenue and its expenses. What do they have to hide?

Update:

In a reply to a question at BR, Helen Tansey sort of answered the cost question:

As for the hard numbers, it is less than $10k and more than $5k.

:shock:


1The Tansey letter further fuels suspicions about the identity of Birther Report being Gary Wilmott. Tansey and Wilmott both serve on the board of the Article II Super PAC.

2I didn’t do any significant research into colocation fees. I found one host that says it has the “Industry’s Lowest Prices” and they want $49 a month after a $99 setup fee for hosting your own rack-mounted server on a 10 Mbps pipe, unlimited bandwidth, 7 IP addresses and 2A power. Add maybe $1,000 one time for a rack-mounted server with a decent processor and a big disk drive. The real wild card is how much the software setup and ongoing maintenance is going to cost. If he hosts a server himself, he will need a business class Internet connection, as pretty much all home plans prohibit servers. Business Internet services have policies, such as this one from AT&T.

3Colocation companies have their own terms of service and acceptable use policies. Here’s a sample from ColoUnlimited.

4Securing the content of a Google Blogger™ blog is no big deal:

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Article II Super PAC website

I dropped by the Article II Super PAC web site today to get the details on Sheriff Joe’s press conference and remarked to myself that it’s a good-looking site.

The design strikes me as sharp and modern, not something thrown together by your average blogger, and indeed the site credit in tiny letters at the bottom of the screen points to Online Candidate web site, a commercial enterprise of Daley Professional Web Solutions and Hudson Valley Web Print Design. I was surprised, however, by the pricing: “$149-$599 complete!”

Having worked with professional web designers in a former life, I know that they can offer more than just a pretty face, helping with overall organization and helping the customer focus on intent of the site and how design flows from intent. I think the new Article II site is easy to navigate and easy to understand.

The Article II Super PAC domain was registered by its director, Helen Tansey of Tansey & Associates, Richmond, Virginia,  who has been involved in anti-Obama activism at least since of 2009 when she accused Nancy Pelosi of fraud when Pelosi certified Obama’s eligibility to run for President in 2008. Tansey is among those disappointed supporters of Hillary Clinton generally referred to as PUMAs.

Tansey gained the attention of no less than Orly Taitz [link to Taitz web site] this past January in her squabble with The Article II crowd.

More by Helen Tansey:

Birther Summit names names

According to a press release from Dean Haskins of The Birther Summit, a combination birther strategy meeting, rally and march, and a game of “pin the tail on the Congressman” scheduled for March 29 – 31 2012, the list of initial dignitaries is now available. They are, ta da:

Hyperlinks point to articles on this site. Some names are familiar to me, and some not. Fortunately the Birther Summit web site has some brief biographical information on each. If they all show up, this could be the biggest birther rally of all time.

I’d be willing to pay BIG BUCKS for a bootleg video tape of the strategy session where they work out their “unified, cohesive message.” Conspiracy theorists don’t usually get along well together.

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