Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WildWinds Hacked

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Dave Surber, creator of the WildWinds coin database, passed away. WildWinds is one of the best-known websites among both ancient coin collectors and numismatic scholars. In addition to being a reference for attribution and price research for collectors, it is widely used by scholars as well since it records so many unique and variant types.

In the wake of the tragic news of Mr. Surber's untimely death, several numismatic discussion lists have now reported that WildWinds has been maliciously hacked. It is terrible that someone would deliberately destroy another's hard and significant work - a deed made all the more terrible on account of its timing. It seems that the section on Greek coins suffered the most while some pages on Roman imperial and provincial coins also were deleted. One individual estimated that about 30% of the WildWinds database had been damaged.

Shortly after Surber's death, there were vague indications that an effort was underway to maintain the WildWinds database and I hope that those who take on this task will be able to restore the lost information. It seems that some of the lost pages are still present in the Google cache and so, hopefully, these will be saved and reintegrated into the website before they are purged from the Google cache (things do not stay in Google cache forever).

It is hard to imagine why anyone would attack a site like this. There is abundant speculation in the online discussion groups, but many seem to think it may have been an attack carried out by a forger or by someone who was resentful of the fact that the site is used for price research. But again, no facts appear to be known yet as to the identity or motivation of the hacker. I would hope that the situation has been referred to law enforcement authorities who perhaps can track them down and hold them accountable.

Anyone with any specific information on efforts to restore the WildWinds database or with any information as to any action being taken against the hacker are welcome to post comments.



Hi Nathan, Last night there was a message that google cached all of the missing Wildwinds info, so someone should be able to restore the missing Wildwinds pages.


The Google cache does indeed hold the data. For example, the main Greek page can be seen at http://google.com/search?q=cache:wildwinds.com/coins/greece/i.html

(replace the text after "cache:" to see other pages).

I read that a DVD of the site was burned in December and several people have it. Hopefully the data will live on. I am more worried about copyrights than the data. Dave had to get permission from every dealer whose eBay auctions appeared. I believe some of these dealers have also died. I long for the day when Creative Commons copyrights are used for coin photos.

The Internet Archive does not have a full copy. http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://wildwinds.com

Dave told me that it stopped scanning him. I don't know what algorithm the Archive uses; perhaps it incorrectly became suspicious because of the many internal links and duplicate rare words on the site.


Dear all
On 11th May, I was finally able to stop the damage being done by blocking the person responsible. We still don't know who did all the damage, but he was deleting them within minutes of my uploading backup copies.

We are still working on fixing and replacing the half a million files on the website. Unfortunately the server is very old and is not accessible using ftp - instead we are having to use a rather primitive system to upload files at a painfully slow rate. (It took 8 hours for me to upload about 750 Sear Greek files, most only 1-2 kb each tonight)
Most pages - except Sear stuff and some thumbnails - are working again but we are moving to a new, more secure server soon.
Please have a little patience.
best wishes from Dane ("Helvetica"), Wildwinds Admin team.


By the way, Ed m'dear. archive.org stopped scanning the website because Dave changed the robots.txt file to stop some nasty bots and the text of his new robots.txt also blocked archive.org.