Source code of Westmont College’s website was recently sabotaged when a Canadian pharmaceutical company, allegedly exploited vulnerability in the site’s web publishing software, WordPress, in an attempt to “artificially increase” its own Google ranking, said Westmont College spokesman Scott Craig. (Google ranking is determined in part by the number of websites that link to a given website, and increasing the number of links can make the site show up earlier in Google search results.) “No personal information has been compromised,” Craig said. “Visitors to the website are at no danger.”
According to Craig, Westmont College’s website was linked from a blog that supports Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which also runs WordPress software. According to a Network World article on the hacking, the links would not have been visible to people using the site – only to software programmed to check for links and calculate a resulting page rank.
“There have been nineteen software releases since the version the Al Gore website installed,” said Matt Mullenweg, spokesman for WordPress. “If you’re on a version 12-16 months old, there’s pretty likely a problem with the software,” he said. According to Mullenweg, Westmont College ran an outdated version of the software, thus opening itself to having its source code manipulated. Used by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, WordPress is self-described as a free “personal publishing platform.”