It used to be that only governments could affect the political culture by stealing someone’s private information. This presidential election, however, things are different: it’s turning into the campaign of the hactivists. The latest target -- right-wing demagogue Bill O'Reilly. The O'Reilly attack comes in response to the furor over the hacking of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account (our coverage). In response to the Palin hack, Fox Commentator O’Reilly had this to say: "I'm not going to mention the website that posted this, but it's one of those despicable, slimy, scummy websites. Everybody knows where this stuff is, OK, and they know the people who run the website, so why can't they go there tonight to the guy's house who runs it, put him in cuffs and take him down and book him?"
Hackers were quick to react to the comment, hacking into O’Reilly’s web site, billoreilly.com. Administrative control was taken and the names, emails, passwords, and addresses of 205 premium members were leaked to Wikileaks. While these were paid accounts, credit card information was apparently not revealed.
O'Reilly's site was subsequently shut down; it is now back up.
According to Eric Marston, Chief Technological Officer of the company who hosts O’Reilly’s site, all of the members whose information was stolen have been notified by email and phone. Of course, not everyone is connected 24/7, so it remains to be seen if the attack will affect members.
There was a concern that the Palin hack might invite copy-cats, especially since news reports about the incident were basically how-to manuals on how to replicate the act. The O’Reilly hack seems to have been even less thought out than Palin’s, but it is a sign of how the internet (and citizen) microstructure can disrupt and disturb the political macrostructure.
As we saw in the cyber attacks on Georgia, hacking can be an extremely effective way to shut down infrastructure. If one were to shut down a major party voice -- or a major party -- when swing voters are still deciding, voting could potentially be influenced or manufactured.