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Skeptical Science hacked, private user details publicly posted online

Posted on 25 March 2012 by John Cook

Sometime over the last few days, the Skeptical Science website has been hacked. The hacker has taken much or all of the Skeptical Science database, zipped various excerpts into a single file, uploaded the file onto a Russian website then linked to the zip file from various blogs. While we are still attempting to verify the authenticity of the file, initial scans seem to indicate the hacker has included the entire database of Skeptical Science users. Access to the full database (which includes private details) is restricted only to myself and I am the only one with access to all of the raw data - this fact alone indicates that this breach of privacy came in the form of an external hack rather than from within Skeptical Science itself.

Of great concern is the fact that the hacker has published personal details such as emails and IP addresses of each user. Many users for various reasons have posted under pseudonyms and the Skeptical Science Comments Policy forbids cyberstalking. Consequently, that the private details of every Skeptical Science user has been stolen and publicly posted is a deeply regretable and unfortunate occurence.

Although user passwords are encrypted in the database, it is unknown whether the hacker has been successful in decrypting passwords. As a safeguard, it is highly recommended that everyone update their user passwords. You can do this via the Update Profile form.

Rest assured, we are working hard to upgrade Skeptical Science's security in order to more robustly protect users' private details. We are also in the process of soliciting legal advice on these matters and contacting the appropriate authorities. We would like to thank those who have come to us with information about this hack and those who have decided against spreading the aforementioned files (e.g. Anthony Watts). We all believe that protecting the privacy of individuals is of the utmost importance and we would hope that all illegally obtained documents and files are removed from uploaded servers and disposed of. 

UPDATE: Anthony Watts has since reneged on his pledge to not use illegally stolen private correspondance and has posted excerpts on his website.

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Comments 101 to 133 out of 133:

  1. @John Cook #81 Thanks! No, the email address is no longer valid (since Dec 2011). Is there anyway, I can send you my email address without posting it openly? I would like to avoid spam attacks. Cheers, Martin
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Send me an email here: profpbody at yahoo.com
  2. Ha, I guess this sucks, but at the same time, my response is "Oh no, people will know I care about climate change!~" In the next few decades and beyond, I highly doubt this will be problematic for me. "Shoot, people know I care about the well-being of future generations."
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  3. Just keep at it - your excellent work is obviously having an effect.
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  4. Well im glad i spared a few minutes from walking in the bluebell woods (flowering a month early!), watering the garden before the hosepipe ban (in march!) and mowing the rapidly browning lawn to come on line. Password changed ok, no spam or other obvious problems. Pathetic behaviour, but sadly unsurprising given how influential this wonderful site is now. Good luck finding the thief and securing the site people, but do try to get a bit of sleep!
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  5. In speculation...the possibilities for the attack. The Australian Institute of Criminology has a discussion on possible motives. A study (** Kilger et al. (2004)) is cited in which summarise in a general sense the motives of hackers:(MEECES) Money Entertainment Ego (Intellectual Challenge) Cause (or malice: attacking the system, vengeance and vindictiveness, power, terrorism) Entrance to social groups Status. I would argue that in this case the hacker would most likely fall into the "cause" camp. The individual (or group) have clearly targeted SkS in a specific and targeted way perhaps trying to emulate (or follow up) on the University of East Anglia email dumps. This might be the type of behavior expected for issues that are becoming very partisan. This hacker is probably is reading through all these comments now feeling very proud of themselves but predictably haven't accomplished anything. *Kilger M, Arkin O & Stutzman J 2004. Profiling. In The honeynet project know your enemy: learning about security threats (second edition). Boston: Addison Wesley. http://www.honeynet.org/book/Chp16.pdf
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  6. @yocta The general tone here has been that this was some kind of attack on SkS for ideological reasons and yet it has previously been pointed out that the attack came from Russian hackers who would likely be more motivated by money, ego or status. Your acronym leaves out one letter, "S" for stepping stone. The real value to a group of hackers (having had my site hacked once) is to facilitate further cyber-shenanigans. A list of email addresses allows a hacker to attack those computers, installing bots that allow further attacks on other sites. SkS list has to be a real treat since the base is so large and diverse and so many are associated with educational facilities. At least it hasn't made it to wikileaks yet.
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  7. Who said that the attack came from Russian hackers? I don't think anyone knows at the moment.
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  8. Just people making unsupported assertions...
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  9. Riccardo & DB: Interpol will sort it all out in good time.
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  10. Thought I'd point out that the ever-dignified and responsible Bishop Hill has gone beyond merely linking to the leaked material (via Tom Nelson and the egregious Shub). Now he's made it the subject of a whole new post. First the man himself has a bit of a gloat and a 'you wish!' ramble -
    It looks like John Cook and co at Skeptical Science are in a bit of a tizzy because their secret forum has been exposed to public view. Their complaint is that they have been hacked though John Cook admits that their security is almost non-existent. What is interesting, in reading some of the excerpts from the forum posted here, is the similarities between the SkS secret forum and the Climategate emails - i.e. we know the facts don't support what we say but don't tell anyone! That's ok, guys, your secrets are safe with us ;-)
    He's christened the event 'Opengate' (zero for originality, but at least the troops will have an easily-remembered shorthand reference for making future snide remarks), has commissioned yet another 'hilarious' cartoon from Josh, and all the little muckers are having a grand old time cherrypicking to their hearts' content in the thread. Now, Watts opposed using the hacked material, and there are two very good reasons for this - principle, and enlightened self-interest, which are not distinct, anyway. As a good example, state leaders don't generally commission the assassination of other state leaders they are in conflict with, if only on the simple basis that sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander! The egregious Montford has effectively renounced any right whatsoever to complain should such an event occur targeting himself, or any of his similarly unprincipled cronies. It's that simple.
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  11. Bill @110, Thanks for the support. Don't fret too much on our behalf and let those who revel in using stolen personal information and take delight in others' misfortune, have fun in their own little dark corner of the internet. Rest assured, the SkS team are hard at work as we speak drafting new posts speaking to the science, and will contine to do what we do best-- refuting myths and misinformation disseminated by fake skeptics. Onwards and forwards.
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  12. Oh my god! A secret forum! The "secret forum," of course, reveals nothing of the sort. It is similar to the East Anglia emails, though, in that there is, here and there, more direct language describing the idiocy that is committed and/or bought-and-paid-for denialism (and simply bad science). The forum is so secret that I assumed its existence long before it was revealed to me, and I think that most people must have assumed that some sort of administrative level was required to organize, fact-check, and review the mass of articles. The idea that the primary posters here are using the forum to say things like, "Geez, we've sure fooled 'em with this AGW bit! Ha ha ha!" is simply absurd, and I eagerly await the monumental stupidity that will be required to twist rhetorically forceful bits out of the context of the forum. The thing is, though, I know a number of bloggers who are up to the task--whose very existence as bloggers, in fact, relies on that particular skill. Denialsville, ya got nothin', and so ya had to steal somethin'. One good thing, though, is that in searching for something to mutilate, these people will be forced to encounter the discussion and the science. Maybe a lightbulb will pop on. Or maybe they'll continue to sit in the dark, contemplating climastrology while mathturbating.
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  13. DSL @112, sadly I expect your wrong. I expect the files related to preparing posts on SkS will be largely ignored, as will the files reporting on new scientific papers (except those by "skeptics"). It is clearly evident from the posts by those trawling the files that they have no interest in context, only in something that can be used to demonize SkS and its forum members.
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  14. DSL @112, "Or maybe they'll continue to sit in the dark, contemplating climastrology while mathturbating." Bravo-- that actually made me laugh out loud. On a serious note, it is really unfortunate that the hacker/s in their zeal to try and intimidate SkS, went beyond the pale by not redacting peoples' private information. That act was truly malicious and uncalled for. As I have said before, these criminal acts only go to underscore the fact that this "debate" is not about science or facts for the fake skeptics, but doing whatever is necessary to continue to further their ideological agenda.
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  15. I reckon it's worth keeping tabs on what they're up to with it, all the same! Also, you guys do science, and do it well; I make no great claims on science, beyond recognising who has the argument in this debate, but I do do people and language. And I'm doing this for me; certain combinations of bone-headed stupidity and breathtaking hypocrisy really, really piss me off! Especially when I think of the damage they've actually succeeding in doing already, and their plans to extend it, despite the fact that their imbecility should be apparent to any educated person in our post-Enlightenment world I don't usually bother with such ineducable types, but I've challenged them to deliver the alleged 'smoking guns' they've all happily convinced themselves they've found, Fearless Leader included; particularly anything that in any way supports the notion that SkS authors 'know the facts don't support them'. But - big surprise! - they've got nothing, and some of the marginally-less-deluded of them must be uncomfortably aware of this at some level.
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  16. Since SkS is entirely fact-based (i.e. all of our posts are rooted in the peer-reviewed literature), it's quite obvious that none of us believe 'the facts don't support us'. If we believed that, we wouldn't be contributing to SkS to begin with. Glancing over the BH comments, I saw one commenter surprised at how honest we are in the SkS private forum, which made me laugh. Though frankly the whole discussion kind of ticks me off, because those are private discussions. It's like Montford and his buddies reading through your email - it's just wrong, immoral, and unethical. But at the same time, we all stand behind everything we've said in the forum. Sure, sometimes we say unflattering things about the Bishop Hill types - who we don't think very much of for obvious reasons - but we say them in private so that we won't say them in public, in order to keep SkS focused on the science. Overall though, I do have to say I enjoy watch them digging around our private discussions trying to find something remotely damning, and utterly failing to do so. But I also feel kind of dirty, having read the comments of such unethical people.
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  17. I can't anymore remember many of the things I've said in the forum. But, by publishing the cracked file the hacker (and those who link to it) have revealed at least: a)my name and age(which was likely previously known if someone bothered to look into it (via my blog @blogspot and two easily guessed additional search words) b)my email (still no additional spam/hatemail, I'll be following that for a long time) c)my hobby (entomology) (which could have been found out by searching by name) d)via my hobby some of the locations I've visited (including two to four guesses on my home address) e)that I'm single f)that I've got a sister (and some of her affiliations, Red Cross, Greens, medical profession, of which she is proud of) g)that I've had a Professor who's good in stats in the family h)that I know a couple of scientists (actual number would be 5, I think interpreted loosely) who have done research on climate related issues (possibly also their emails, which could have been found also by researching the literature) i)my history and experience with weather/climate science (not much) j)the fact that I'm not good in maths/physics (which becomes obvious if one searches the comments I've made elsewhere in the blogosphere) k)that I accept the AGW mainly because of the spectrum taken on TOA, the black-body radiation theory, the changing C12/C13/C14-ratios in the atmosphere, and because I think CO2 has a specific absorption spectrum (I've done a bit of Gas Cromatography during studies) l)that I do not like people who claim to understand physics who do not accept j) showing they understand even less than me. m)my formal education and the university n)that I do not believe in the runaway GHE in the Venusian style occurring on Earth (can't prove it with maths, sorry) in another 1,5 billion years (sun gets too hot then) o)likely my ISP ? p) any additional info that I do not now remember writing about, (f.e. the location of the southernmost location of occurrence of Erebia embla in Finland that I've heard about but not confirmed.) I hope the deniers are having fun reading my 'critical assessement' of one article I know they're interested in, but won't say here what it is, since one should have something to do. It was made entirely tongue-in-cheek and I will likely laugh out loud (LOL) if I see it referred on some blog.
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  18. I see that I am an Earth Scientist (correct) who posts as two usernames at The Guardian: I can reveal the shocking truth is that having had an article published there I changed to my real name so that readers would know it was the author taking part in the discussion. This was at the request of the editors. Made perfect sense to me. I like writing for SkS because a) it gives me chance to explore in great detail interesting palaeoclimate problems and topics with a big geological component - my folders of papers on such topics are starting to bulge alarmingly - and b) because the internal review procedure here has really helped sharpen-up my writing skills, which for anyone can only be improved. So in doing so I've learned a lot both ways. Anyone who has been involved in the management of any successful internet forum will know that there are tiers of management and moderation who have back-office areas, off-limits to ordinary members, in which to discuss financial support, action such as banning/unbanning disruptive members, reporting spammers and just letting off steam in private when the need arises. I would fully expect busy sites such as WUWT to have similar admin areas, but would be equally strongly against such areas being illegally made available to the public: it matters not whether we disagree severely over aspects of climatology. The reason that it matters not is because the bottom line is that without admin/modding teams being able to have such administrative areas, and thereby do their jobs properly, every single forum on the net would be jam-packed to the point of being unreadable with spammers and off-topic trolls, regardless of the subject upon which the forum was based. Given how useful forums can be as helpful information-exchanges on topics as diverse as fishing or gardening or motor vehicle maintenance, that would be a major backward step to the detriment of all. I am sure that those who are delighting in picking through our private conversations would realise that, if they sat and thought about it for a moment. Cheers - John
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  19. Regarding the discussion at BH, I posted a few comments over there on the previous thread to show that SkS is interested in openly discussing the science. On Mar 25, 2012 at 10:44 AM, geoffchambers wrote "I thought of contacting them to see if any kind of private dialogue would be fruitful - a Christmas Day game of football in Nomansland. This would mean using their private emails which I shouldn’t be looking at, though." So on Mar 25, 2012 at 3:41 PM I said I would be willing to engage in an email discussion, and gave my email address so that anyone who didn't want to read the hacked post could email me as well. The number of emails I have recieved from BH contributors is so far precisely zero. Despite the fact that on Mar 25, 2012 at 5:00 PM geoffchambers said he would take me up on my offer and the fact that on Mar 25, 2012 at 5:09 PM I clarified that my offer was open to anybody at BH who wanted to discuss the science, not just geoffchambers. I repeated it again on (Mar 25, 2012 at 10:50 PM) when I dropped out of the discussion. So it seems to me that the interest in email discussion was not really genuine. Jonas N apparently rejected the offer saying (Mar 25, 2012 at 11:15 PM) "The "stick to the science" is a weasly condition. Because of the (not very scientifically literate) moderators are not trained or well versed in physical or other hard sciences. Because they equate 'science' with 'words found in published articles'. The method then is to demand that criticisms or any objection must be found in a publication, and also that the phrases and sentences found in the pro-AGW publications must be accepted at face value, and cannot be criticized for what they actually claim and for the actual (carried out, and presented real) science they supposedly draw upon says, shows and more importanly: what it doesn't show or support. " I don't really know where to start with that one. I also answered (Mar 25, 2012 at 9:11 PM) a question about the anthropogenic cause of the rise in atmospheric CO2 from j. ferguson (Mar 25, 2012 at 7:10 PM). There was no acknowlegement of my answer nor was any counterargument made. I also answered a point by shub (Mar 25, 2012 at 8:29 PM) that "My opinion is that if you admit to the uncertainties publicly, your case will become stronger." by pointing out that mainstream science is very open in discussing the uncertainties involved (Mar 25, 2012 at 9:20 PM) and said that we would be happy to discuss them at SkS. AFAICS nobody argued that my comment was factually incorrect, but it did attract criticism of our moderation from Jonas N (Mar 25, 2012 at 9:36 PM) and shub (Mar 25, 2012 at 10:21 PM) Simon Hopkinson questioned the way in which the IPCC describes uncertainty (Mar 25, 2012 at 9:38 PM). I pointed out that I found Curry's papers on this unconvincing (Mar 25, 2012 at 9:45 PM) and asked for a specific example of a problematic IPCC statement, but Hopkins merely said that he did not disagree with Curry, and so no substantive discussion of the issue was possible. I also pointed out that the form of statements used by the IPCC is very similar to the PAC bounds used in Computational Learning Theory (CoLT), so there was unlikely to be a problem with ambiguity. diogenes (Mar 25, 2012 at 10:28 PM) questioned whether we knew anything about sensitivity. Perhaps I should have answered that by mentioning estimates from paleoclimate data, but as he wrote "Buit since this concept of sensitivity is so badly defined, why debate it." there didn't seem to be much point. So, I went over there willing to openly discuss the scientific issues and correct any misunderstandings about comments from the hack taken out of context and I found there was no willingness to discuss the science, just rhetoric, which suggests there is not much point discussing things at BH. BTW I thought "opengate" was actually quite witty, assuming (incorrectly) that it wasn't a hack.
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  20. Dikran, you have received zero emails out of a very small sample size on a wide variety topics while you admit your expertise is specialized in statistics. You might get a response by helping KR defend Mann's HS statistics on the new "tree hut" thread. That is more in line with Montford's reasons for creating that site.
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  21. Eric, you miss the point. It was a poster at BH that expressed a desire for a bridge building communication via email, not me. I thought that was a good idea and was willing to take part, but it turned out that the suggestion was not genuine, just rhetoric. The discussion of PCA on BH is similarly rhetorical, they even stoop to pointless spelling pedantry, while ignoring the point that centering actually doesn't make much difference and that a wide variety of other methods give similar results. There really isn't any point discussing the statistical subtleties to them if they can't even cope with the basics. Science is about truth-seeking, not winning the argument, and I am interested in science.
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  22. Dikran Marsupial #119 You quote my comment on the Bishop Hill thread in which I suggested a dialogue. When you responded politely offering to discuss on your private email address, I responded positively, since it seemed the decent thing to do. (I also asked if your offer to discuss science also included social science, but I don’t remember you replying. There was a lot going on on that thread so I may just have missed it). I may yet take up your offer. As I said in my numerous comments at BH, I appreciated the polite tone of your comments and those of Tom Curtis - not easy in the circumstances. You missed out the beginning of my comment though, in which I said: “I noticed the email addresses of some people I’ve had energetic (foul-mouthed even) disputes with at CiF...” . To be clear, I was thinking of two of your authors, regular commenters at CommentisFree in the Guardian, with whom I have had long and often interesting disputes in the past. With one of them, the discussion sometimes got extremely rude, though I appreciated his intelligent approach. The other author was always polite. My thinking in proposing a dialogue was this: the socio-political situation wrt global warming and the measures to prevent it has taken some surprising twists in the past few years. It may continue to do so (e.g. the weather might take a funny turn; so might electors). Reasoned discussion between the two “sides” is practically non-existant. A private no-holds-barred discussion now might prove to be interesting at some date in the future. The condition would be total confidentiality until or unless both of us agreed to make public our discussion. My promise here is my guarantee of confidentiality. I would trust him to keep his side of the bargain. If the author concerned (I’m sure he knows who I mean) wants to contact me, the administrator here has my email address.
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  23. @geoffchambers applogies for misinterpreting the lack of response. I'm always happy to discuss the science. The problem with discussing the socio-politico-economic issues is that it must be based on a proper understanding of the science, so there needs to be a reasonable degree of agreement on that before any progress can be made on socio-politico-econimic issues. If we start the discussion from socio-economic or political considerations, we will be approaching it from the direction least likely to result in progress. "Mother Nature" is blind to politics or economics or social issues, we need to work out how "she" will respond to our actions to know what our options are and work from there. Sadly as far as I can tell from what I have seen at BH, there is a reluctance to discuss the science in a balanced manner, so I doubt I'll be posting there any further, but I will check my email.
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  24. Dikran Marsupial #123 Thanks for the reply. I’ll take you up on that. You say later at #119 that at BH you “found there was no willingness to discuss the science, just rhetoric”. The subject of the thread was not the science but the SkS leak or hack. Try a different thread. John Mason #118 I was the one that brought up your two user names. Those who have had articles published at the Graun normally have a big “C” next to their below-the-line comments, to indicate that they are contributors, and not just run-of-the-mill readers off the street. Neither of your names had that. Also, I was banned from CiF for a long time for using two user names (not concurrently) on the grounds of impersonation. It took me a long time to persuade them that changing from gmchambers to geoffchambers did not constitute astroturfing.
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  25. @geoff I've had a look at recent threads and they don't seem that different to me. As I said on the other thread on the SkS hack the topic of PCA came up (as Eric says an important topic at BH), but important points countering the arguments against Mann were glossed over and there was too much personalisation for a sensible discussion to prosper. But if the topic of the anthropogenic component of the rise in CO2 comes up, let me know and I'll pop over an test the waters again on a topic I have researched myself (might well happen if Murray Salby's paper ever sees the light of day).
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  26. Geoff, Hopefully I was the "always polite" one, though in retrospect I cannot guarantee that. I was often as robust as some of the opposition, and I think you know who I mean - we have both been bashing along on those threads for years and have seen most things! However, I am always more willing to debate the science rather than rake over bits of hacked private correspondence. My article there was on the drought as it was in February and the interesting problems of perception and instinct that brought with it: droughts are normally connected in a visual manner with heat, when in fact the simple lack of average rainfall over many months is what sets them up. It was a well-received piece, but I wasn't awarded the "Blue C"! WRT your remaining BH comments about me, yes GM and I keep in touch, but only occasionally when there's something of especial interest to us both, and now that he has moved back to England I guess even that will be less frequent. What I will say having got to know him is that he is genuine in what he writes, as I hope you understand I am, too, although clearly we take a different approach. Climate science fascinates me, not just the now, or the future, but the past. Is it not something that I and others should be blogging about, and why? Why not talk and write about what the folks doing the science are finding? Cheers - John
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  27. Hope you get the crooks. I guess the upshot is. It shows how damn desperate they are. Smear is their only defense now. It's a warning to other AGW realist blogs out there. Wounded and cornered animals fight back harder. Glad I have a dynamic ip.
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  28. John Mason #126 Thanks for the explanation. Yes, I believe you were polite, but rocks aren’t really my thing. The person I’d be interested in engaging with was the one who accused me of paying Exxon to let me troll for them. How did he know?
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Please can we keep the discussion as good natured as possible, note the comments policy forbids inflamatory comments, and this thread could easily head in that direction if we are not carefull. Please can the discussion be confined to the issues rather than those taking part in the discussion.
  29. @Phil M: The SkS author team is unlikely to catch the perp. We're relying on Interpol to do so.
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  30. John@126 Yeah, figure of speech ;)
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  31. Riccardo The OP alluded to it and so did @Andylee Just be glad you aren't these folks. Lost data may have exposed 800,000 people in Calif SkS may screw up, but it takes IBM to do it right.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] "SkS may screw up"

    Again, this was a hack, with all that that entails. Not an exploitation of a programming error.

    A crime was committed. Period.

  32. TOP you wrote "[...] and yet it has previously been pointed out that the attack came from Russian hackers [..]". You were wrong then and again know. I'm sure you understand that saying that the file was on a russian server doesn't mean that the uploader is russian too. And andylee made a few more or less realistic suppositions based essentially on nothing but what is generally common over the internet. In any case, as per Moderator's comment, it was a hack and I'm sure you wouldn't say that it's your fault if someone breaks into your house, you'd correctly call it a theft.
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  33. Judging how messed up this thread was (technically) over the weekend I'm just not sure. Fortunately or unfortunately my three comments to #131 were removed. I was wondering if the intruder had left a trojan or something.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] There were technical issues centering around how the server dealt with time zones, and especially daylight savings time, in some areas. As a result, the sequencing of some comments may have been affected. Comments not fully germane to the discussion and detracting from the dialogue due to the aforesaid sequencing issues may have been moderated out. Apologies to all concerned.

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