[ISN] MTV 'Hack' backfires

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Thu Sep 10 1998 - 02:59:35 PDT

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    MTV "hack" backfires
    By Jim Hu
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    September 9, 1998, 2:15 p.m. PT
    When Netizens craving music industry skinny visited MTV Online last week,
    they were not greeted with the standard navigation menu, but instead with
    a crudely scribbled message: "JF was here." 
    Immediately, many assumed what appeared to be the obvious: MTV Online was
    hacked. The page, after all, had all the hallmarks of a typical hack--the
    MTV home page was darkened, the "hacker"  message was prominently
    featured, and a small link to MTV's actual page was included at the
    Furthermore, the MTV Online logo on the upper right-hand side of the home
    page's screen was defaced and an actual MTV disclaimer stated that MTV was
    "sorry for the inconvenience" and "working on legally clearing this off
    the site." 
    But despite appearances, there was no hack. MTV itself changed the page as
    part of an elaborate campaign to promote an online fictional character
    named "Johnny Fame," who is set to become MTV Online's "roving reporter"
    during tomorrow night's MTV Music Video Awards. 
    The confusion by Web users was further compounded by the name MTV chose to
    use for its publicity stunt: While Johnny Fame might sound like a fairly
    benign name, his initials, which MTV used to "deface" its own page, is
    also the moniker for a member of an international group of young hackers
    called Milw0rm. 
    The group gained notoriety last June when members gained access into
    India's Bhabha Atomic Research Center and downloaded 5 MB of information
    as a protest against the country's nuclear testing program. 
    In July, Milw0rm also made news when it reportedly broke into the database
    of Web page hosting company EasySpace and redirected more than 300 sites
    to an antinuclear message with an apocalyptic mushroom cloud backdrop. 
    When hacker news site AntiOnline heard about the MTV "hack," it quickly
    discovered that the JF in question was not the nuclear proliferation
    protester from Milw0rm, but the fictional MTV character. 
    John Vranesevich, founder of AntiOnline, was not amused. 
    "I think it screams of bad ethics," said Vranesevich, who has since posted
    a harsh criticism of MTV's publicity stunt on his Web site. 
    Vranesevich said that the stunt, which he called a phony hack, was a
    glorification of a criminal act, and was setting a bad example for
    teenagers by glamorizing the rebellious nature of hackers. 
    "Pretending to hack your own sites is one thing, but actually trying to
    pin it on a high-profile individual is a whole other thing," said
    Vranesevich. "I think it downplays the seriousness of the things he's
    done.  Here's a guy who broke into a nuclear research site." 
    MTV, for its part, said it only wanted to find a creative way of promoting
    the character that it plans to use for its awards ceremony. 
    "We wanted to take an unorthodox approach to how we covered celebrities
    and the event," said Caroline Mockridge, an MTV spokeswoman.  "And we
    wanted to introduce him to our MTV online audience in a dramatic and
    medium-appropriate way." 
    The promotion is another example of the way many companies charting into
    the Internet have adopted previously underground Web culture to promote
    their products or programs. The more notable examples also have been
    entertainment oriented. 
    In May 1997, Web developers accused Universal Pictures of engaging in a
    publicity stunt when the dinosaur insignia for the film Lost World was
    replaced with a cuddly duck on its Web site. 
    Universal maintained that it had been hacked, but many observers were
    MTV has also gone to great lengths to promote the stunt. Interspersed
    throughout MTV Online, ad banners read "For a good time…212-846-2598,"  in
    JF's signature scrawl, promoting a phone number that leads to a message by
    the fictional character. 
    When asked about whether the site would continue to promote Fame on its
    home page, Mockridge said MTV is "having his presence manifest itself on
    our site in a lot of ways." 
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