NEW ORLEANS – A local news site, Mid-City Messenger, found a lot of new subscribers on Monday morning.
Robert Morris, Mid-City Messenger and Uptown Messenger’s news director believes that the new subscribers could be Russian hackers.
“Mid-City messenger suddenly had 16,000 new email subscribers,” Morris said.
Almost all the new subscribers had emails ending in .ru, a domain used for Russia.
"As far I know, you can't hack a website by subscribing to their email,” Morris said.
Morris says he is skeptical about Russian hacking claims but after this incident he is more suspicious.
"They realized if they created a fake Facebook account that also shared, that was programmed to share articles from Mid-City Messenger it would look like a real person from Mid-City,” he said.
He said later those fake profiles could spread false information to influence debates. It sounds unbelievable, but he referenced a report of a chemical disaster in St. Mary Parish in 2014. Tweets from that time were shared on social media but it was a sophisticated hoax, believed to have originated in Russia.
Nam Nguyen leads C3 security which specializes in computer network security for businesses. He says hackers come from everywhere and took a look at a few of Mid-City Messenger emails.
“If you look at it they have some randomly generated email,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen says hackers often create accounts to spam. He suggests increasing more human interaction with things like Captcha.
One of the emails was plugged into Google Translate. It says, ‘group 11203113, your site has been successfully replenished. The sum of the gift of the site is $230.52.’
Whoever is behind the incident was successful in interrupting Morris’ daily work.
“Instead of normal reporting on charter schools or City Council,” Morris said.
Morris, instead, spent the day figuring out how to tighten web security but he wants Russians to know they are welcomed.
“You know I would certainly welcome fans in Russia,” he said.
As far as Morris can tell, he does not believe anything he’s posted has gone viral but he is still looking into that. As to whether he is going to report to a law agency he said not but is open to talking with them.