VERNON - A phony website and the hacker behind it is giving the Vernon Arts Council gigabytes of grief.
The domain name vernonartscouncil.ca may look at first glance like a legitimate website belonging to the Vernon Arts Council. But as you read through it, you’ll notice statements like, ‘After you’re done visiting all of the great artistic and musical talent that we have available here, enjoy a top pokies game online.’ 'Or perhaps while you’re waiting for the art gallery to open, you could play some online blackjack?' 'Being involved in the arts council is a lot of work, so why not take a break with some online gaming?'
It all started a few years ago when the arts council missed the deadline to renew its lease on the domain name. Suddenly, the site was snatched up and injected with bogus links leading visitors to online gambling sites and away from the art gallery.
Executive director for the arts council Lynne Gayan says their web guy traced the hacker to the UK but was unable to get the domain name back.
“You feel violated,” Gayan says. “It’s our website and there’s nothing you can do to get it back.”
The hacker updates the site from time to time, pulling board of director names and emails from elsewhere and loading them to the page.
“It’s really bizarre, they’re trying to update it and make it look like it’s us,” Gayan says. “They’ve gone to great efforts.”
The arts council gets inquiries from people about the site, but not many. It’s the visitors that don’t call Gayan is more concerned about.
“You wonder if new people in town are going on and finding this. They might think there is no arts council. Or if they can’t find it right away, they might give up,” she says.
This isn’t the only time the arts council has been hacked. Just this spring someone infiltrated the Vernon Community Arts Centre website where program registration happens. The password was changed, and staff weren’t able to get in. Gayan says registration plummeted around 15 per cent.
“What a pain it was, for two months we were down. I couldn’t believe how much it affected our registration,” Gayan says. “We don’t do paypall so there was no benefit (to the hacker.) Our web guy said it was probably just kids trying to see if they could do it.”
Work is underway to build a new website for the arts council, one done right, Gayan says.
“The Internet is a great resource but it can backfire on you. I came from that era where anyone could build a website for free — now anyone else can get in and take it over,” Gayan says.
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