Epik long has been the favorite Internet company of the far-right, providing domain services to QAnon theorists, Proud Boys and other instigators of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — allowing them to broadcast hateful messages from behind a veil of anonymity.
But that veil abruptly vanished last week when a huge breach by the hacker group Anonymous dumped into public view more than 150 gigabytes of previously private data — including user names, passwords and other identifying information of Epik’s customers…
“It’s massive. It may be the biggest domain-style leak I’ve seen and, as an extremism researcher, it’s certainly the most interesting,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who studies right-wing extremism. “It’s an embarrassment of riches — stress on the embarrassment.”
Epik, based in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, has made its name in the Internet world by providing critical Web services to sites that have run afoul of other companies’ policies against hate speech, misinformation and advocating violence. Its client list is a roll-call of sites known for permitting extreme posts and that have been rejected by other companies for their failure to moderate what their users post.
“The company played such a major role in keeping far-right terrorist cesspools alive,” said Rita Katz, executive director of SITE Intelligence Group, which studies online extremism. “Without Epik, many extremist communities — from QAnon and white nationalists to accelerationist neo-Nazis — would have had far less oxygen to spread harm, whether that be building toward the Jan. 6 Capitol riots or sowing the misinformation and conspiracy theories chipping away at democracy.”
Extremism researchers urge careful fact-checking to protect credibility, but the data remains tantalizing for its potential to unmask extremists in public-facing jobs.
“A lot of research begins with naming names,” Emma Best said. “There’s a lot of optimism and feeling of being overwhelmed, and people knowing they’re in for the long haul with some of this data.”
A serious act of intelligence and political will has cracked open what turned out to be a not-very-well-defended chunk of right-wing record keeping. This article doesn’t display much individual data; but, provides the links and guidance to check it out on your own. Which is likely to be what a number of dedicated fans of democracy will be doing for months and years to come.
No doubt they will discover much. And publish it. One of the things a Free Press is for.