AT&T said to block 4chan; pranksters fight back

After AT&T's broadband customers began reporting they couldn't access the forum site, a fake report surfaced on CNN's iReport alleging that AT&T's CEO was dead.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
A fake report on CNN's iReport site alleged that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had been found dead. iReport, screengrab from Business Insider

Reports began to surface Sunday charging that AT&T had blocked broadband access to parts of the notorious (and powerful) Internet forum site 4chan, which the telecom company confirmed on Monday. Late in the evening, a fake story surfaced on CNN's iReport citizen journalism site alleging that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had been "found dead in his multimillion dollar beachfront mansion" after a cocaine overdose.

Suffice it to say that the two events are likely connected. Access to 4chan has since been restored for AT&T broadband customers.

For those who stepped in late: 4chan is sort of like the Internet's equivalent of a league of pirates, den of thieves, or whatever other sort of anarchic analogy you prefer. Decentralized and relying on anonymity, the participants issue large-scale pranks both online and offline, from teaming up with video site eBaumsWorld to launch the "Porn Day" campaign on YouTube to spamming Twitter's trending topics.

The fake iReport disappeared from CNN quickly, perhaps because it read that Stephenson was found "delirious" when "a friend called 911 after a night of what he called, 'male dancers everywhere and the best blow west of the Mississippi.'"

Last October, iReport was the victim of a prank in which a more believable user-submitted story reported that Apple CEO Steve Jobs--who has a well-publicized history of health problems--had suffered a heart attack. It wasn't true, but it was online long enough that Apple's stock took a dip.

AT&T spokesman Michael Coe told CNET News in an e-mailed statement that a denial-of-service attack was what stemmed the temporary block of 4chan traffic and that it has since been restored. "Beginning Friday, an AT&T customer was impacted by a denial-of-service attack stemming from IP addresses connected to img.4chan.org," Coe wrote. "To prevent this attack from disrupting service for the impacted AT&T customer, and to prevent the attack from spreading to impact our other customers, AT&T temporarily blocked access to the IP addresses in question for our customers. This action was in no way related to the content at img.4chan.org; our focus was on protecting our customers from malicious traffic."

"Overnight Sunday, after we determined the denial-of-service threat no longer existed, AT&T removed the block on the IP addresses in question," the AT&T statement continued. "We will continue to monitor for denial-of-service activity and any malicious traffic to protect our customers."

This post was updated at 9:25 a.m. PT.