4chan hackers tried changing voting results of NASA student challenge

Apparently, 4chan hackers conducted the cyber attack to stop a group of three African American school girls from winning the NASA’s competition.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has announced that the voting system for its Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge or OPSPARC was hit by a cyber attack that aimed at changing the final results of the competition – Apparently, hackers from the infamous 4chan forum were behind this feat.

Those of you not familiar with the OPSPARC, it is a competition in which students from all over the United States participated which allowed them to either work on their own or a small group. The competition’s theme also allows the public to vote for their favorite project but when the public voting was in process hackers conducted a cyber attack to alter its results which forced NASA to end public voting to protect the integrity of the results.

According to the official statement from NASA:

“On Sunday, April 29, hackers attempted to change the vote totals in the NASA OPSPARC Challenge, so managers of the challenge decided to end public voting to protect the integrity of the results. The challenge team has an accurate record of the voting results prior to the attempted disruption.”

“The top three Public Choice teams in each category will be notified and recognized on the challenge website. In accordance with the judging criteria and voting procedures stated on the OPSPARC website, a panel of NASA Goddard judges will make a final determination of the winners using the published rubrics.”

“Before the voting ended, members of the public were using social media to generate support for particular teams in the public voting. NASA supports this kind of community-based effort to encourage students to engage with science, technology, engineering, and math and recognizes social media as an important tool for that support,” said NASA.

“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts,” NASA revealed.

The Root reports that the “particular student team” is actually a group of three African American girls Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff representing Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. The group developed a water filtration system for public schools that would ultimately let students drink clean water.

Their project’s video can be watched here.

4chan hackers tried changing voting results of NASA student challenge
Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff (Image credit: NBCNEWS)

However, while the group was gaining attention on social media and collecting votes, The Washington Post reported that furious 4chan users were planning to stop the ladies from winning.

“The anonymous posters used racial epithets, argued that the students’ project did not deserve to be a finalist and said that the black community was voting for the teens only because of their race,” noted The Washington Post.

“They urged people to vote against the Banneker trio, and one user offered to put the topic on an Internet thread about President Trump to garner more attention. They recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost.”

Although it is unclear how the hackers were able to target NASA‘s public voting system the winners of the competition will be announced in the next couple of weeks.

“Public voting does not determine the winners of OPSPARC. The winners are chosen based on their scores from the rubric- which is scored by a panel of NASA judges. Public voting is a secondary factor that the judges may consider when choosing the winners,” NASA told Newsweek.

Waqas

Waqas Amir is a Milan-based cybersecurity journalist with a passion for covering latest happenings in cyber security and tech world. In addition to being the founder of this website, Waqas is also into gaming, reading and investigative journalism.