Precision Hacking


I’ve seen a few examples where recommenders, polls and top-ten lists have been manipulated. Generally a central coordinator sends a message to the hoard that descend on the  to-be-hacked site. Ron Paul’s sheeple, or pharyngula‘s followers are prime examples of the type of group that can  turn a poll upside down in a matter of minutes.

It has always seemed to me that such coordinating manipulation was a blunt instrument.  The commanded horde could push a specific item to the top of a poll  faster than a Kansas school board could lose Darwin’s notebook, but the horde lacked any subtlety or finesse.  Sure you could promote or demote an individual or issue, but fine tuned manipulation would just be too difficult. Well,  I’ve been proved wrong.    Take a look at this Time Poll.


Not only has the poll been swamped to promote Moot (the pseudonym of the creator of 4chan, an image board and the birthplace for many internet memes) as the most influential of people, the poll crashers have manipulated the order of all the other nominees so that the first letter of each line spells out ‘marble cake, also the game’ (marble cake is not really a kind of cake btw).    This is pretty phenomenal, precision hacking.   Precision hacking of an extremely high profile poll run by a top notch media company.  Now, imagine if the same energy was put into getting that latest Lordi album to the top of the pop 100 charts.  I’m sure it could be done (and I’m already wondering if perhaps it has already been done, and we just don’t know it).

Polls, top-N lists, and recommenders based upon the wisdom of the crowds are susceptible to this type of manipulation.  Better defenses are going to be  needed otherwise we will all be listening to whatever 4chan wants us to listen to. (via reddit)


  1. #1 by Gareth on April 13, 2009 - 9:43 pm

    Interesting story.

    About the marble cake… I used to eat marble cake when I was young… The BBC has a recipe – top link if you look on Google.

  2. #2 by Anonymous on April 13, 2009 - 11:36 pm

  3. #3 by Palad on April 14, 2009 - 9:30 am

    By the way, the word you want is ‘horde’ (a large group of people) not ‘hoard’ (a collection of valuable items).

    • #4 by Anon on April 28, 2009 - 2:17 am

      We prefer Legion as in rule #4. Of course I am also breaking rules #1 & #2 by telling you this.

      • #5 by Anon on July 31, 2009 - 8:25 am

        Not true, only applies to raids.

  4. #6 by Ed Webb on April 14, 2009 - 11:02 am

    “Horde” rather than “hoard” – although such an entity could indeed be quite valuable.

    • #7 by plamere on April 14, 2009 - 11:07 am

      thx. will change!

  5. #8 by myphotoscout on April 14, 2009 - 11:46 am

    Funny indeed. I find it somewhat strange that Time wouldn’t detect manipulations.

  6. #9 by Doug on April 14, 2009 - 12:54 pm

    I am proud to say that I took part in this.

    • #10 by plamere on April 14, 2009 - 12:57 pm

      @doug: I’d love to hear more about how it was done. Please elaborate (if you’d rather email me direct, that’d be cool: Thx

  7. #11 by Anonymous on April 14, 2009 - 1:28 pm

    First rule Doug, first rule.

  8. #12 by Anonymous on April 14, 2009 - 1:32 pm

    i dont think doug knows rule 1. i doubt hes even heard of rule 34.

  9. #13 by Doug on April 14, 2009 - 3:22 pm

    I don’t believe I ever broke rules 1 or 2. But thanks for the reminders brothers.

  10. #14 by walt on April 14, 2009 - 3:38 pm

    Wasn’t Time the one that also had Attaturk elevated by Turks to Person of the Century or some other title?

    I suppose we should be grateful that they didn’t choose “Go F Yourself” for an acronym instead.

  11. #15 by bobwama on April 14, 2009 - 6:44 pm

    Being myself a follower of Pharyngula, I can agree that the polls will go crazy. I mean really crazy weighted in one direction. But this…I cannot imagine the degree of organization that went into this. Truly fantastic.

  12. #16 by David Harmon on April 14, 2009 - 7:22 pm

    You should send this to FAILblog for an “pwned” pic.

  13. #17 by Anonymous on April 15, 2009 - 1:04 am

    Marblecake is a type of cake, but there is some back history here, quoted from Usenet:
    “Then there’s yet another twist. The first Anonymous video message to Scientology and the first three themes for the protests were cooked up in a collective that has come to be known as Marblecake, because of one of the names for irc channels they used. Opinions on this group vary widely. Some consider them a sinister, secretive cabal bent on controlling Anonymous. Others, including participants, portray them as simply a creative collective who brainstormed and came up with good ideas, which were then adopted at large on their own merits because they were good ideas. Critics of the Marblecake group, on the other hand, accuse MC of astroturfing and using sock puppets to manufacture support for their ideas, “leadarfagging,” and otherwise being bad in a variety of ways.”

  14. #18 by Anne on April 15, 2009 - 1:35 am

    we are legion.

    no, literally.

    Doing *anything* by public internet vote these days is a really, really stupid idea.
    It doesn’t matter how strong you think your websecurity is because chance are, one of us made that program.

  15. #19 by No Name on April 15, 2009 - 1:52 am

    If anything, this proves that the poll was honest and the poll organizer did not try to alter the results to their liking.

  16. #20 by chris hansen on April 15, 2009 - 4:39 am

    Marbelcake is an irc collective of ‘anons’ who produce media and websites for Project Chanology (the internet based activism/trolling against the Church of Scientology). They received a lot criticism last year for elitism and trying to steer the direction of Chanology. This is a 4chan attempt to troll them.

  17. #21 by Anonymous on April 15, 2009 - 5:53 am

    we are legion.

    no, literally.

    Doing *anything* by public internet vote these days is a really, really stupid idea.
    It doesn’t matter how strong you think your websecurity is because chance are, one of us made that program.

    *translation* (No, really, I put this shit through BabelFish!)

    We are the people who fix your servers, design your web apps, and store your data. We guard your data while you sleep. DO NOT fuck with us.

  18. #22 by Anonymous aka /b/ on April 17, 2009 - 10:44 am

    cool story bro

  19. #23 by Anonymous on April 18, 2009 - 8:32 am

    We r many, we r strong, we r anonymous

  20. #24 by awsamsyit on April 26, 2009 - 9:23 am

    Awesome shit, thanks for the heads up. Didn’t really recognise the marble cake before I read this article :D

  21. #25 by anon on April 27, 2009 - 11:50 am

    bring back snacks

  22. #26 by Mr. Jess on April 27, 2009 - 8:37 pm

    btw, there is such a thing as marble cake. My German Grandmother has made it for years! It’s a combination of vanilla cake batter and chocolate cake batter. Both are poured into a bundt pan, a knife is swirled through the two batters, and the result is a marbled pattern.

  23. #27 by xorsprite on April 29, 2009 - 12:11 pm

    Nice Article. The hack itself is audacious, but any good web programmer should be able to pull this off even with out help given the balls and inclination. There’s standard inventive problem solving and basic code breaking, I like the idea of tricking people to fool the captcha though! Time mag is the middle to higher part of a bloated media refinary and some sinisisem and humour are a good thing. Acording to some research I did after reading this, for example, Moot may have predated on a number of innocents in a vicious manner reveiling a sadistic streak. Also it seems criminal investigations into these other matters, and the point that his true identity is now public domain, mean this activity could soon be muted.

  24. #28 by spy bugs on May 4, 2009 - 1:09 pm

    Thanks a lot, wonderful post.

  25. #29 by John Doe on May 19, 2009 - 2:54 am

    The Hierarchy Encompassing World Organizations & Regions, Leading “Democracy”. Is Simply, Rationally, Organizationally, Totally, Tragically, Insignificant & Nonexistent, Guys. THE REASON ANYBODY DOES ANYTHING, Wealth, Crime, War, Fame, is for one reason and one reason only. Happiness & Teh Lulz. and for the most part, if you look at the world we live in anarchy. nations only reason being, trying to “save citizens” (Fail) by blowing other nations off the map, and by not actually just helping our citizens. instead we get red tape and pink slips.

  26. #30 by Anon on August 14, 2009 - 4:22 pm

    Dude! I Love Tupac!

  27. #31 by Кирилл on December 24, 2009 - 2:47 am

    Спорно, но как вариант имеет право на жизнь

  28. #32 by Adaline Health on April 26, 2010 - 7:20 pm


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