Hacker claims credit for knocking church's site offline

Twitter post suggests 'The Jester' may have been responsible for knocking controversial church offline

A Twitter message from Monday suggests that a seld-proclaimed "hacktivist" using the handle The Jester may have been responsible for knocking the controversial Westboro Baptist Church offline.

In the message, the hacker claimed to have temporarily taken down the public website of the church "for celebrating the death of U.S. troops."

The message, however, made no direct mention if The Jester (@th3j35t3r on Twitter) was also responsible for the unavailability today of several other websites affiliated to the WBC.

Members of the WBC church, based in Topeka, Kan., are known for their strident anti-gay views and for protests at funerals of slain military personnel and others.

Last week, someone purporting to be from the hacking collective known as Anonymous, posted a letter on an Anonymous site, warning WBC members of attacks against their church public websites if they did not stop their protests.

The letter lamented the "inimitable bigotry and intolerant fanaticism" of the protesters and warned of online attacks that the church would not be able to withstand or recover from.

That letter was later dismissed as a hoax by Anonymous, which has been involved in several high-profile attacks recently, including one against the security firm HBGary.

Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Church today said such attacks are not unusual for the church.

"Every time we look up somebody is doing something to us," she said claiming that in the past the church's website has been attacked by hackers not just from the U.S. but also from other countries such as the Netherlands and New Zealand. "All such attacks do is to cause somebody to look at us," she said.

She attributed the latest attack on the military but offered no explanation for her claim.

This morning, all of the church's sites were unavailable. It is not immediately clear how long the sites have been down and what role, if any, The Jester or Anonymous may have played. There has been no response yet to a Computerworld request for comment from Anonymous members.

The Jester, previously claimed responsibility for launching distributed denial of service attacks against WikiLeaks last year in response to what it claimed was WikiLeaks' role in endangering the lives of U.S. troops.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at  @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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