Colonial Williamsburg says its website was the target of an ISIS-style hack

WILLIAMSBURG — No good deed goes unpunished.

In the wake of an offer to help Iraq safeguard at-risk artifacts, Colonial Williamsburg’s website, history.org, was among the targets of a weekend cyber attack with possible links to Islamic State.

Colonial Williamsburg president Mitchell Reiss, formerly a U.S. diplomat, made the offer March 2 while hosting a team of Iraqi archaeologists and museum experts. He made the offer as a gesture of solidarity.

Since the offer was never publicly announced, the hack of Colonial Williamsburg’s website on March 8 is likely coincidence. That day a number of U.S. websites were attacked. The hack took the form of a black ISIS flag with the English text “Hacked by ISIS.” An identical display appeared on the website of Montauk Manor, a posh hotel in the Hamptons of Long Island, N.Y.

Islamic State has been attacking and destroying ancient pre-Muslim holy sites in Iraq. On March 4, according to Internet reports, Islamic State issued a call for the destruction of the Sphinx and the pyramids in Egypt.

The FBI is investigating the cyber attacks, according to Colonial Williamsburg spokesman Joe Straw. NBC reported Sunday that some of its sources suggested the hackers might not actually be affiliated with Islamic State jihadists.

Reiss said Colonial Williamsburg won’t be deterred and again offered help to harbor Iraqi historical antiquities.

“At Colonial Williamsburg, we well know that a nation’s past is a foundation for its future,” Reiss said in a statement. “It was here that the idea of American independence was first established, where our founding democratic institutions were conceived, and where our foundational values of human dignity and religious and economic liberty were first given voice. All that we are today—and hope to be tomorrow—started here.”

He said Iraq also has a proud historical legacy.

“It is the same for Iraq, a country known as the cradle of civilization for its scientific, cultural and artistic achievements — including invention of the wheel and the first alphabet, which date back 10,000 years and which continue to fascinate and inspire humanity,” Reiss continued. “That legacy, indeed our common human legacy, is contained in the vessels of civilization now being destroyed by ISIS.

“The Iraqi people once suffered at the hands of despots. They continue to suffer at the hands of terrorists,” Reiss added. “If we can join with them in an effort to protect these antiquities, we can protect Iraq and the world’s collective DNA until these clouds of divisiveness and chaos pass.”

Colonial Williamsburg drafted a Memorandum of Understanding offering to work with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and other Iraqi archaeological and historical organizations to help preserve this shared heritage. The Iraqis have not signed the memorandum yet.

“Our pledge is to work with Iraq’s dedicated archaeological and antiquities professionals to identify specific artifacts that can benefit from Colonial Williamsburg’s conservation and preservation expertise,” Reiss said. “We will accept all the artifacts that our Division of Collections, Conservation and Museums can handle.”

There have been no physical threats against Colonial Williamsburg, which said it remains vigilant and cooperates with partners in law enforcement.

Vaughan can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.  

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