“Pretty nice organization you have here. It would be sad if something happened to it.” That’s the essence of the threatening message sent by German PR executive Sven Lilienström to the NRA. The actual words are: “To the NRA Board of Directors: Try to protect your data/files and emails!” and if they can actually do it, he promises to show up with “two team members” to “polish 500 weapons” at the NRA annual meeting.
He shows he’s serious with a European’s idea of a threatening gangsta: some soft and lissome Eurotrash male model, wearing lipstick and gripping an Airsoft MP5K. In his weak hand. (Or maybe the weaker of two weak hands?) Lord love a duck. Apparently this is Sven Lilienström, as he sees himself. An edgy gangsta, commanding hordes of pimply hackers.
Lilienström doesn’t actually seem to be connected to the hacker community in any obvious way. Far from having techie cred, his education equips him to be a fitness trainer (German language link). He has almost zero presence n the net, apart from self-promotion — and inept self-promotion at that (he’s got a MySpace page! Himmel Herrgott, can we touch him?). As you can see from his real picture, he’s about as hip as Homer Simpson. He’s based in the international hi-tech nexus of Kaarst, in North Rhein-Westphalia.
Lilienström — he of the MySpace social media presence — runs a PR agency, which he says is expert on social and guerilla media. (What he means by that, as we shall see, is that he is unburdened with ethics). His firm is called Rheingewinn (loosely, Rhein profit!) showing that someone really did see the underpants gnomes as role models.
He’s done some self-promotion as a global warming causista, and some self-promotion while flacking for a european racket called the Plus-X Award which turned out to be “pay for play.” (German language, but a nomination cost €464 and a win — which a third of the nominees got — an adittional €3,064). We reckon it was a short step from bribery to extortion.
His new approach is a mock-Wikileaks called Populeaks. It works like this: Lilienström sends a threat to some target — in this case the NRA — and gives them a deadline.
While many of his past letters have attacked his old bêtes noires — One beats the global warming drum, and one rather rudely demanded answers about a micro-scandal involving manufacturers misleading Stiftung Warentest, a German equivalent of Consumer Reports and a respected competitor to his pay-for-play Plus-X Awards — most have not actually been threatening. One, to a Canadian government contractor, did claim that he had hacked Canadian immigration data.
So what we have here is part and parcel of Lilienstrom’s earlier work: self-promotion, with questionable ethics.
The question is: does NRA have to worry? The answer: probably not. It’s hard to imagine the clownish Lilienström, a PR executive that could have been sketched by Gilbert and Sullivan (had such a trade existed in their era), being effective at anything.
But consider this: there are certainly people who have an interest in hacking NRA’s membership data, including news media organizations (the British media, which extensively cross-pollinates ours, is in the throes of a criminal hacking scandal at this very moment) and ATF management (it would be illegal, but mere black-letter law has never stopped them before). And those threats have always been out there. While the people that run NRA might be complacent, they’re not incompetent, and one must assume that they keep their data close and their systems closer, and have good security folks, if not in-house, on speed dial.