Hackers attack epileptics forum: crossing digital borders

Just a few more or less recent items that I find interesting (cutting it up in multiple posts):

Wired reports that hackers have attacked an online forum for epilepsy patients. They placed fast-moving images on the forum, which resulted in a number of epilepsy patient getting a seizure.

Internet griefers descended on an epilepsy support message board last weekend and used JavaScript code and flashing computer animation to trigger migraine headaches and seizures in some users.

What triggered me:

The incident, possibly the first computer attack to inflict physical harm on the victims, began Saturday, March 22, when attackers used a script to post hundreds of messages embedded with flashing animated gifs. [my emphasis]

A cruel yet fascinating example of the blurring between online space and the physical, and how the ‘virtual’ is creeping (or in this case seizing) into the world we formerly knew as ‘real world’. Of course, examples abound of people carrying their online avatars with them outside the (MMORPG) game, or people making hard cash out of virtual real estate, etc. Yet what makes this case special I think is the intention of the attackers to target this specific group in this way, in order to inflict bodily harm on actual persons through digitally mediated ways. No doubt they must have imagined epileptic patients getting fits and seizures behind their computers when crafting their attack. It’ precisely this intentional aspect of breaking out of screen space, stepping outside of the bounded online world with its own rules that thrives on willingly forgetting that there are actual people in flesh and blood sitting behind their screen (in their underwear picking their nose), that makes this a special case.

It is just a matter of time before hackers launch similar attacks on the digital infrastructures of the city, be it the RFID transport system, CCTV surveillance, the various wireless data networks, or any combination. The first attempts are already there. The physical seizure this may cause to the city is hard to imagine now.

Michiel de Lange
Michiel de Lange (1976) is a part-time Lecturer in New Media Studies at Utrecht University, and a researcher and adviser of new media and urbanism. He is trained as a cultural anthropologist, and holds a PhD in philosophy (2010) with a dissertation about mobile media technologies and urban identities. He collaborated in a locative media art & science project (www.nomadicmilk.net). He worked for Knowledgeland, a Dutch think-tank that aims to strengthen the knowledge-based society. Here he worked on several projects at the intersection of ICTs and the city, e.g. co-organizing the Creative Capital conference. He also volunteered and worked for Cybersoek, a computer neighborhood center in Amsterdam. He is advisor e-culture at Mediafonds. Michiel is on Twitter and LinkedIn.