Hackers pull off Harper choking hoax

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not rushed to hospital after 'an incident at breakfast' on Tuesday, his office confirmed shortly after a fake news release appeared on the Conservative Party's website.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not rushed to hospital after "an incident at breakfast" on Tuesday, his office confirmed shortly after a fake news release appeared on the Conservative Party's website.

The front page of the Conservative Party website was hacked Tuesday morning with a fake story that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been taken to hospital after choking on a hash brown.
Dimitri Soudas, Harper's director of communications, told CBC News that the website was hacked and was quickly fixed.

Another alteration to the party website added a link to a Twitter account that professed admiration for a hacker site that has claimed responsibility for high-profile cyber attacks in recent weeks, and a separate internet post under the same user name claimed to leak the password and login for the Conservative site.

Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey told CBC News the damage was confined to the party website, which is hosted by a third party.

The story posted under the news release section of the website quickly had Ottawa buzzing and people talking about it on the website Twitter.

The fake news release said Harper choked on a hash brown while eating breakfast with his kids, "blocking air from reaching his lungs," and that his wife, Laureen, called 911. It said a member of his security team administered first aid and that the prime minister was airlifted to a hospital in Toronto.

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Roundup of Twitter reaction to the hashbrown hoax

"Due to the nature of the incident, we are cautiously assuming the Prime minister will completely recover within the next few days. From the looks of things, Harper will miss many of his planned meetings over the next few days," the fake news release said.

The text and nature of the press release immediately caused suspicion but some news outlets reported the story.

"Clearly somebody hacked our website," Soudas said. "The prime minister actually took his daughter to school this morning,"

The story on the Conservative Party website said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's wife had called 911. Harper's spokesman quickly confirmed the report was false and was a hoax.
Soudas said Harper was fine and was in Ottawa Tuesday morning.

Hack 'despicable': Clement

Treasury Board President Tony Clement took to Twitter and called the prank "despicable."

In an interview with CBC News, Clement said the hacker should have considered who could be reading the release, like Harper's extended family.

"I just think, I don't know what this person was thinking, thinking this is funny, or a joke, but when you're dealing with the health of the prime minister, it's not a joke," Clement said.

Conservative MP Chris Alexander's Twitter feed automatically retweeted the release.

"Quite honestly, I don't think it's a news story," Alexander said. "A lot of things appear on Twitter and disappear very quickly. Let's focus on things that are substantive, newsworthy, and informative for Canadians, you know. That's what we're here for, not to disseminiate disinformation."

NDP leader Jack Layton said he was "shocked" when he first heard the prime minister may have had a medical emergency and he condemned the prank.

"There is nothing funny about this. That hacking should not have happened," Layton said in the Commons foyer after the daily question period. 

"Playing around with somebody's health in a public environment like that, making ridiculous — as it turns out,  fortunately — statements is dangerous and wrong."

Twitter user claims responsibility

In addition to the fake "breakfast incident" report, a link at the bottom of the party's web page was altered to point to a Twitter account called LulzRaft. That link was still altered as of 11:10 a.m.

Messages created in the past 24 hours on that Twitter page seem to be taunts related to the stunt. "Any bets on how long until anyone notices my 'special article'?" a tweet posted Tuesday morning said, with a link to the Conservative website.

And passwords that appear to belong to administrators of the Conservative Party website were posted under the LulzRaft account on a public text sharing site in a post dated June 7.

The LulzRaft Twitter account bio makes reference to LulzSec, which in recent weeks has claimed responsibility for the hacking of sites and databases belonging to high-profile multinational corporations such as Honda and Sony, public broadcaster PBS and even the FBI.

It is unclear what relationship there is, if any, between LulzRaft and LulzSec.

Party spokesman DeLorey also told CBC that unlike other recent security breaches, no database was compromised in this incident.

The Conservative Party maintains a vast database containing personal information for thousands of members.

Conservative Party email accounts were also not breached, according to DeLorey.

Tuesday morning's online incident is only the latest ad hoc protest to dog the early days of Harper's majority government.

Last Friday, a former Senate page suddenly disrupted the throne speech in the Senate chambers by unexpectedly walking to the middle of the floor and holding up a sign that said "Stop Harper." She was removed from the chamber and immediately fired.

The Speaker of the Senate, Noël Kinsella said the page's actions constituted a contempt of Parliament and raised security concerns. Others took the former page's protest as inspiration.

By late Friday, plans began to form online for organized protests when the Conservative Party gathers later this week for a major policy convention in Ottawa. At least one anarchist website called for cyber attacks, or hacking efforts such as this, inspired by the "Stop Harper" protest.

It's unclear whether today's breach of the Conservative Party's site has any connection to those calls for protests.