The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) provides women in the UK with free advice about their pregnancies and their choices about abortion. The information it holds on a number of women is, therefore, of a very personal nature but unlike credit card or banking information – these details would not hold much value on the black market. However, that has not stopped the thousands of attempted hacks on the website.
These hackers are ideologically and financially motivated. Just a few days ago, a 27-year old British man, James Jeffery, was sentenced to 32 months in prison for stealing the records of 10,000 women registered at the site after a couple of women he knew had abortions that he “disagreed with”. He apparently intended to publish the data, but thankfully got cold feet. There have been 2,500 hacking attempts on the BPAS website since Jeffrey’s arrest five weeks ago, which may not have been successful – but will certainly intimidate some women away from signing up for the service.
This virtual intimidation follows a continued campaign by Christian fundamentalist pressure group 40 Days for Life which have been protesting outside abortion clinics here in the UK, spreading false information and fear, and intimidating women away from entering the clinics. Much of the funding for 40 Days for Life, and other Christian pressure groups that have sprung up in the UK recently such as the anti-gay Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust comes from the US where the debate on those topics remain volatile today even in the upcoming US Presidential election race where contraception is still an issue. That a large proportion of the recent hacking attempts on the BPAS website originated from IPs in the US is not, therefore, a surprise.
It is true that determining the original location of hackers is notoriously difficult with the use of proxies, botnets, and other tools helping to hide identities online. And the majority of the world’s servers are located in the US – so many attacks will look to originate there even if the hacker is based elsewhere – but with hacks based on Christian fundamentalist ideology rather than financial gain, over an issue that is a hot topic in American politics, are very likely to have at least some links with the home of fundamentalist Christianity – the US.