After the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a mob of President Trump’s supporters, investigations and searches began to find those involved. Surprisingly (and ironically) enough, it seems that the now-banned social media app Parler, which became a platform for mostly conservative users for “free speech" may be the key to helping arrest many of those individuals.
According to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, Parler was one of several apps used to coordinate the breach of the Capitol, in a plan to overturn the 2020 election results and keep Donald Trump in power.
However, the app really just became a place for far-right conspiracy theories, racism, and death threats aimed at prominent Democratic (and some Republican) politicians. The app also became a great tool to track down those involved in the failed coup. While the app may be deleted, that didn’t mean that hackers couldn’t do an entire data dump and expose several users.
A main hacker of Parler documented the data dump on Twitter.
The main hacker, Twitter user @donk_enby, began by archiving every post from Jan. 6, 2020, the day of the Capitol riot. Gizmodo reported, “Operating on little sleep, @donk_enby began the work of archiving all of Parler’s posts, ultimately capturing around 99 percent of its content...@donk_enby said she was crawling some 1.1 million Parler video URLs.”
Remember how people were dunking on Parler for being built on WordPress? Well, through a plug-in exploit, literally all the user data (including photos of verified state id cards) has been retrieved by hackers and is being posted online. Lmao ♾️https://t.co/w1yexoUOxq pic.twitter.com/h2Mf7Fn1Sc— Classic Bird Respecter (@BirdRespecter) January 11, 2021
“These are the original, unprocessed, raw files as uploaded to Parler with all associated metadata,” she told Gizmodo. She eventually had downloaded more than 56 terabytes of information, including the raw video files with GPS metadata pointing to exact locations of where the videos were taken.
The hacker soon crowdsourced her work to help download data faster.
So, how did this hacker get all the information in the first place? Parler’s process of “deleting” users' posts helped a lot. According to Vice, like most online apps and services, Parler didn’t actually delete user posts. Instead, they marked them as unviewable and omitted them from search results. Similar to when you make a YouTube video “Unlisted.”
“Initially, the hacker worked on downloading the data herself, but when Amazon announced it was going to shut off access, they urged her followers to join in by publishing a list of all the posts,” Vice reported.
“The hacker set up a crowdsourcing system where multiple people could help download the content. The downloaded data is now being processed before being uploaded to the Internet Archive, where anyone will be able to view or download it — including the open-source intelligence community and law enforcement agencies.”
The news of the data dump has scared (and angered) far-right supporters.
Once news got around that no one’s Parler posts were safe from hackers, many conservative news outlets began warning their audience. “Bad news. Left extremists have captured and archived over 70TB of data from Parler servers. This includes posts, personal information, locations, videos, images, etc,” a Telegram account called North Central Florida Patriots said.
“The intent is a mass dox and a list to hold patriots ‘accountable’. It is too late to scrub your data, and it’s already archived. There is nothing you can do to prevent what’s already happened. All you can do is prepare for the fallout. Accountability may come in many forms for our free speech, doxing, jobs might be called, addresses leaked and people coming to your house, etc,” they warned.
The Parler hack is great. You'd think they'd be happy that all their examples of free speech have been preserved, even those that they hurriedly tried to delete after Jan 6 because they include precise geolocation metadata, which would place them in the Capitol.— Richard Littler (@richard_littler) January 11, 2021
While many were concerned about the fallout of the hack, others were pleased to know that there would be consequences for extremist behavior. “The #Parler hack was genius. All of the user date revealed, including location, messages and other metadata. Whoops! @fbi is going to have a field day,” one Twitter user wrote.