A group of hackers who compromised servers belonging to PBS.org early Monday morning said they used a zero-day vulnerability in a blog software program to obtain access to the popular site.
In a post Sunday on the file-sharing site Pastebin, a vigilante hacker contingent known as LulzSec said PBS.org "was owned" through an unpatched vulnerability in Moveable Type version 4.
Using that vector to gain their foothold, the hackers - seeking revenge against PBS for recently airing what they considered an unfair documentary about WikiLeaks - were able to compromise the PBS NewsHour website to post a fake story that rapper Tupac Shakur is still alive. In addition, the intruders posted the usernames and passwords to PBS staff, as well as those working at other networks apparently affiliated with PBS.
"We just finished watching WikiSecrets and were less than impressed," a message from the group read. "We decided to sail our Lulz Boat over to the PBS servers for further ... perusing."
One of the hackers who claimed responsibility teamed up with just a few others to launch the attack, according to a Forbes story. Aside from humor, their motive was to express support for WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning, the US Army private who leaked roughly 250,000 secret US State Department diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
"While our main goal is to spread entertainment, we do greatly wish that Bradley Manning hears about this and at least smiles," the hacker, who called himself Whirpool, told Forbes.
It took some time for PBS to regain control of its servers, with the group launching additional defacements many hours after it posted the fake story. The LulzSec Twitter account documented most of the incidents.
"The erroneous information posted early yesterday morning on the PBS NewsHour site was corrected," a statement from the network said. "The intruders also posted login information to an outdated version of PBS PressRoom and an internal communications website for stations. We have notified stations and affected parties to advise them of the situation."
LulzSec does not appear to be affiliated with Anonymous, a separate hacktivist group, but both support WikiLeaks.
Rob Rachwald, director of security strategy at data security firm Imperva, said the hackers likely used a three-step process to compromise PBS.org: use automated software to locate a vulnerability, then use tools to harvest database contents and finally use some of that stolen information to login to certain systems.
"The breach highlights how hacking has become industrialized," Rachwald said in a Sunday blog post.
The LulzSec collective also has taken credit for hacking into Fox.com and a Sony website in Japan. It also promised more problems for Sony, according to a weekend tweet.
Meanwhile, experts said the PBS hack should offer pause for other news outlets who believe their networks are secure from similar attacks.