V for Vendetta hacker broadcasts video at Washington State University

As London reels from the 50,000 students taking to the streets, an anonymous student has called for students in the US to be a little less apathetic.

By Darlene Storm on computer world.

An anonymous hacker who calls himself “V” hijacked the projector systems in more than two dozen classrooms at Washington State University (WSU) last week. The hacker asked students to stand up to administrators and then invited them to meet on November Fifth, in one year, to take action on campus.

By hacking into the university’s media services, V projected the video via the school’s distance-learning technology to WSU’s Todd and Sloan Halls. The video replicated a scene from the 2006 film V for Vendetta and called for students to break out of apathy and the “comforts of the everyday routine, the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition” and to rise up against squirrels on campus.

The Chronicle reported, IT officials had to unplug some computer hard drives to stop the hack. Darin Watkins, executive director of WSU external communications, stated, “It was a rather sophisticated program. Traditional ways of shutting down the software wouldn’t work.” Watkins also said no students’ personal or financial information was attached to the infected media system and the threat to the larger university system “was not very serious.”

According to WSU 1812, the blog where hackers and disgruntled students posted, the video’s intended message was, “University officials, it’s time to clean up your act. Listen to your students once in a while. Some of them know what they’re talking about. And students, stop being so apathetic. When you hear or see something that troubles you make your opinion known. Do something about it. Don’t just sit around and play video games or check your Facebook status.”

Although many students allegedly took the video as a prank, the event was labeled by some as a possible prelude to terrorism. The hacker emailed the Daily Evergreen to say, “Some officials seem to be taking what should be interpreted as a simple prank out of context. I have been told that the police are after me. I am and was aware of this possibility; they’re only trying to do their job. If I did my job, they will have a very difficult time finding me. I just hope they realize I’m not worth the effort. There are real criminals out there; they deserve far more attention than I.”

In a statement [PDF] released by WSU, Tom Ambrosi, WSU’s chief information security officer, said, “We see this as a serious breach of our systems and we are dealing with it as such.”

In the same statement, Watkins stated, “The biggest issue with the hack, was that there was system damage. Information Technology Services will be working all weekend to make repairs and ensure classroom technologies are fully functioning by Monday. Some students taking online classes through the distance learning program were also affected.”

System damage that requires all weekend to repair? While it might have caused limited/minor software damage, I emailed Ambrosi to see if it might have been missed patches. I asked if that was what IT had to work on all weekend, patching exploits? If not, what kind of system damage did it cause? Ambrosi did not reply with a comment.

On WSU 1812, the hacker said it caused no damage. “One final note to the AMS people: We didn’t break your computers. They will be back to normal at 5:01 PM. Don’t worry about it. (Unless you tampered with them, in which case you should run the script “c:vuninstall.bat” as Administrator. This script will cleanly remove and reverse all modifications made to the systems.)”

The Daily Evergreen Online reported that V said in an email, “I was hoping that everyone would generate their own list of problems which they are passionate about. If everyone only realized we are all surrounded by the same small common problems, we might just be able to solve them. From there, who knows where we could go.”

In V for Vendetta, V broadcasts a video message calling the British public to take action on November 5. “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November.” According to Wikipedia, November Fifth commemorates the anniversary of when Guy Fawkes’s tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I.

According to WSU 1812 on Facebook, Google offered the hacker a job. Will the hacker’s video have any lasting impact at the university or be remembered as only a prank? We’ll find out what happens next November Fifth.