Hackers target, 'deface' Google Palestine site

UPDATED 3: The local Google Palestine homepage was hijacked and 'defaced' by hackers, who appear to be protesting the terms used in Google Maps.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
(Screenshot: ZDNet)

Hackers have successfully attacked Google.ps, the Palestinian version of the Google search page. 

The page, which has since returned to its default page, described how the hackers are protesting the legitimacy of terminology used in Google Maps, which does not formally display the term "Palestine" on its imagery.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 14.31.37
(Screenshot: ZDNet)

Google later stated that it had not been "hacked."

The attackers were able to deface the site with a successful DNS hijacking attempt. In doing so, the Google homepage was redirected to a Morocco-based server. We also checked with the WHOIS provider of the Palestinian top-level domain name (.ps), which confirmed that Google.ps remained under the ownership of Google U.S. in Mountain View, California.

The page contained this statement (sic): "uncle google we say hi from palestine to remember you that the country in google map not called israel. its called Palestine" in additon to text images and a map screenshot.

The main Google logo image was directly linked to a Google-owned domain. The Google Maps screenshot was hosted by a third-party Arabic image and file sharer, known as GulfUp. Also, users were prompted to accept a RealPlayer plugin — a Web extension scarcely used nowadays — which was used to play a Rihanna track.

Upon brief examination, a site linked on the page points to a forum where exploits and hacks are traded. It's possible, therefore, that this was the work of an individual who may not require a great deal of technical sophistication.

A Google spokesperson did not comment on who may have been responsible for the DNS hijacking.

Google in May caused a stir when it formally stated on its Google.ps homepage "Palestine" that it was dropping the previous "Palestinian Territories" moniker.

The search giant said at the time it was following the lead of the United Nations, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and ISO (International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

It was seen favorably by the Palestinian Authority at the time, but provoked anger across the border in Israel. At the time the change in terminology was noted to not reflect in other Google services, notably Google Maps. 

Looking closely on Google Maps, the search giant does not appear to formally recognize the disputed country's soil in name. It does, however, note the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line, which separates Israel from Palestine.

That said, in 2011 during the Arab Spring uprising, Google changed the name of Green Square, named by the late Colonel Gaddafi, back to Martyr's Square, following a key rebel fight in the Libyan capital.

A Google spokesperson said in an email: 

Some users visiting Google.ps have been getting redirected to a different website; Google services for the Google.ps domain were not hacked. We're in contact with the organization responsible for managing this domain name so we can help resolve the problem.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET: with an updated headline and summary indicating that though the page appears defaced, it has in fact been hijacked. These details were also added based on discussions from a Hacker News thread.

Update at 4:41 p.m. ET: the site is now back to normal, pending DNS propagation. Still no word from Google on what happened. Also, added a statement from a Google spokesperson at 5:05 p.m. ET.

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