Attacking Outbrain, Hackers Aim To Control Your Reading Recommendations

An attack on a web content recommendation tool reminds us that hackers can aim above and beyond newspapers.

The Syrian Electronic Army launched a hack attack at some large news organizations this week, affecting the digital operations of the Washington Post, leading to surprising outages at some of the world's biggest names in news. But the hack attacks were aimed at web content recommendation company Outbrain, forcing it to totally disable its own systems, reminding us that hack attacks can have far a bigger footprint than at first appears.

Outbrain has since restored its services, which is a context-aware widget you can embed on a website to recommend ongoing links that a reader may wish to consider, based on context. But it explained that it too was directly targeted via a security loophole and that the hackers used their access to meddle with the links that Outbrain recommended to users.

Hacking a prominent site like the Post garners media notoriety for hackers like the SEA, but their targeting of a system like Outbrain is more interesting: It suggests that a sophisticated hacker could actually manipulate the way users access content online and thus try to change public opinion. In recent weeks, hack attacks have been aimed at some very surprising systems and services, which is a big heads-up that as more things become connected to the Internet, the more you'll be reading about (and experiencing) the effects of hacks.

[Image via Flickr user: Hay Paul Studios]

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