How a 2011 Hack You’ve Never Heard of Changed the Internet’s Infrastructure

It all started with an internet user in Iran who couldn’t get into his Gmail account.

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Media Outlet: Slate Future Tense

Josephine Wolff wrote for the Slate about the 2011 DigiNotar hack and its implications for internet security infrastructure:

On Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, an Iranian man who went by the online alias alibo tried to check his email—only to find he couldn’t connect to Gmail. Yet the problem disappeared when he connected to a virtual private network that disguised his location. Whatever was going on, it seemed to only affect computer users in Iran.
His first hunch was that the problem might be somehow tied to the Iranian government—which was known for interfering with online activity—or a problem with his local internet service provider. So alibo posted a question about the issue on the Gmail Help Forum. Two days later, Google responded to this apparently small problem in a big way: It issued a public statement about the incident, attributing the problem to security issues at a Dutch company called DigiNotar. Within a month, DigiNotar had been taken over by the Dutch government. Not long after that, it declared bankruptcy and dissolved.


Josephine Wolff was a Class of 2016 & 2017 Cybersecurity Initiative Fellow at New America, where she will write a book about cybersecurity incidents from the last decade, tracing their economic and legal aftermath and their impact on the current state of technical, social, and political lines of defense.