MYNORTHWEST HISTORY

‘Seattle Vintage’ Facebook page taken over by hackers

Mar 14, 2024, 10:11 AM | Updated: 11:35 am

Seattle Vintage site. (Seattle Vintage)...

Seattle Vintage site. (Seattle Vintage)

(Seattle Vintage)

A Facebook group run by local volunteers and meant for sharing images and stories about Seattle area history has been taken over by hackers.

The now-hacked page is called “Seattle Vintage.” It’s not unlike similar organic, grassroots Facebook groups or initiatives founded and run by volunteers to celebrate local history in their respective communities around the world.

Late last week, hackers impersonating page administrators – those Facebook users and group members who have privileged access for managing the page, including approving which posts are accepted and rejected – took over Seattle Vintage. They kicked off all the legitimate page administrators and began making changes to the content, likely as a precursor to some kind of attempt to “sell” administrative access to the page to other hackers.

Doug Palmer retired after a long career in retail in the Seattle area. He’s a longtime member of Seattle Vintage and often posts on the page. Once he was aware of what was happening, he began looking into what appears to be a pair of individuals who are responsible for the hacking attack.

“After I started researching and searching the Internet for their names,” Palmer told KIRO Newsradio, he determined “they’ve taken over and then resold 30 different pages at least.”

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By “reselling,” Palmer says he believes that there’s a market for pages with large numbers of followers. The model, Palmer says, is to gain access to the page via the page administrator function and then eliminate the legitimate administrators. Next, the hackers might change the name of the page themselves, or, sell administrative access to some other malevolent party who will then use the page to create promotional posts for some kind of product or service – likely completed unrelated to the content being posted on the page before it was hacked.

To be clear, there’s no “black market” for Seattle history; the value of the page to hackers are Seattle Vintage’s 155,000 followers – most of whom probably have no idea yet that Seattle Vintage has been taken over for unseemly purposes.

However, many Seattle Vintage users are aware and have attempted to report the hacking to Facebook. Unfortunately, says Doug Palmer, there appears to be no mechanism in place within the Facebook system for reporting exactly what happened to Seattle Vintage.

Facebook’s failure to provide such a mechanism has so far not discouraged Palmer.

“I put comments on both [Facebook founder and CEO] Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, Facebook’s Facebook and Twitter accounts; I reached out to Kim Schrier, my [congressional] representative, on her contact form; also [Senator] Maria Cantwell; [and] the Consumer Protection Division of Washington the Attorney General’s Office,” Palmer said. “I also reached out to the FBI.”

“The only reply I’ve gotten so far is when I reported the two profiles” of the hackers, Palmer said. “Facebook’s bot messaged me back [. . .] it said these two people ‘have not violated our community standards, so we have not removed their profiles.’”

Palmer has also attempted to determine the hackers’ actual whereabouts, but this has proven tricky.

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“The two hackers say that they’re headquartered out of Berlin, and list a phony company’s name that doesn’t come up anywhere in any Internet search,” Palmer said. “And their WhatsApp account number is registered to a cell carrier in Kyiv, Ukraine” Palmer continued. “If I Google the two hackers’ names together and separately, it comes up [as] two ladies who went to school and college in the Kashmir district of Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, the founders of the now-hacked Seattle Vintage have launched a new group and page called “Seattle Vintage 2.0.” As of Thursday morning, it has just shy of 1,000 followers – so not quite 155,000 just yet.

That number of followers and the resource that the original Seattle Vintage had become represent countless hours of serious and thoughtful work by thousands of Facebook users who have shared images and stories on the page – and, yes, probably hundreds of thousands of hours of good old-fashioned scrolling by many, many more page users.

David Ruble grew up in Seattle and was one of the most prolific posters on the original Seattle Vintage page.

“In the last five years, I posted a lot of personal stories, artwork, you know, historical vignettes,” Ruble told KIRO Newsradio late Wednesday.

“One of the very special things about Seattle Vintage is we consider it all a very safe space to share our personal experiences growing up, our collective experiences growing up,” Ruble continued.

Ruble is proud of the work he’s put into his posts for Seattle Vintage, and of the responses he’s received over the years as people “liked” his posts, made comments, or shared photos in dialog with Ruble and the other Facebook users “engaging” with the content.

“As of last Friday, I had 330,000 engagements on Seattle Vintage through my stories, and so it’s a big loss,” Ruble said.

Like Doug Palmer and many others, once he was aware of the hackers, Ruble removed all his content from the old page.

“It was tough to delete them, let me tell you,” Ruble said, “but I did not want my original content to fall into the hands of international cybercriminals.”

As he shares what he’s been going through over the past several days, Ruble, who’s in his early sixties, comes across as crestfallen but also defiant.

“They can steal the site, but they’re never going to get the community — they can’t steal us,” Ruble said. “And I think that’s the point. We can start over with a new site, and we have started over with a new site, they will never be able to rob us of the community that we have.”

KIRO Newsradio has reached out to Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office for their reaction to this development and to see if any Washington laws or consumer protection policies have been violated, or if there are steps that Facebook could be taking to provide the true administrators of the Seattle Vintage with further assistance to remedy the problem. We have not yet heard back.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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