Vandalism on online epilepsy forum triggers convulsions

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An internet forum, run by the non-profit Epilepsy Foundation, was attacked last week by a group of vandals. The attack, first reported by Wired News, exploited a function of the forums to post JavaScript code. The code injected by the vandals flashed two images repeatedly and tried to lead users off to external websites showing flashing lights and shapes intended to trigger off epileptic fits. The Epilepsy Foundation had to shut down the forum, and took some measures to prevent future attacks.

In a press release, the Foundation stated that several users of the forum, sufferers of epilepsy, experienced harsh migraines and seizures as a result of the attack. One woman, RyAnne Fultz, was paralyzed by the flashing images in what she calls her worst attack in over a year, until her 11-year old son managed to get her to stop looking at the screen and close the flashing images.

They also posted a message regarding new measures saying "In our upping of security on the forums, we have established the following new rules: No animated images are allowed to be used anywhere from now on. No GIFs are allowed at all anymore as well. No rich text is allowed in the body of messages at all, either."

Wired News additionally reports that there is "circumstantial evidence" linking the perpetrators of the attack to the internet group "Anonymous", who are most well known for their recent protests and attacks against the Church of Scientology, and their members created a reputation as "griefers" in the virtual worlds Second Life, and Habbo Hotel. The Austrian paper Krone reports that the "usual goal of their attacks is to raise a fuss or disturb others". Following critical reports about the attack, members of the group blamed the attack on the Church of Scientology.

Wired News states that the attack on the forum may have been the first computer attack in history to inflict physical harm on its victims.

Between three and five per cent of all epilepsy sufferers are vulnerable to seizures triggered by flashing lights, shapes or colours, like ones used in the attack. Photosensitive epilepsy has been in the news increasingly over the last few years as various media have triggered seizures in people.

Recently a logo animation for the 2012 London Olympics caused thousands of people to experience seizures. In another incident, the episode "Dennō Senshi Porygon" of the animated TV series Pokémon caused thousands of children to experience seizures in Japan. In March, MTV refused to air a new video by Gnarls Barkley out of fear it would trigger seizures.


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