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Internet Trolls Attack Individuals with Epilepsy

— December 30, 2019

Hackers attack internet users with epilepsy during National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

Hackers sent videos and images of flashing strobe lights to thousands of Twitter users who follow the Epilepsy Foundation in a mass cyberattack seeking to trigger seizures in those with epilepsy.  The internet attack took place during National Epilepsy Awareness Month.

WebMD indicates, “Epilepsy is a relatively common condition, affecting 0.5% to 1% of the population. In the United States, about 2.5 million people have epilepsy and about 9% of Americans will have at least one seizure in their lifetimes.”  According to the World Health Organization, “epilepsy is the most common serious brain disorder worldwide with no age, racial, social class, national or geographic boundaries.”

“These attacks are no different than a person carrying a strobe light into a convention of people with epilepsy and seizures with the intention of inducing seizures and thereby causing significant harm to the participants,” said Allison Nichol, director of legal advocacy for the foundation.

Internet Trolls Attack Individuals with Epilepsy
Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

“While the population of those with photosensitive epilepsy is small, the impact can be quite serious,” said Jacqueline French, Epilepsy Foundation chief medical officer explained. “Many are not even aware they have photosensitivity until they have a seizure.”

The Epilepsy Foundation reported thirty attacks and filed police reports with local authorities, including the United States Attorney’s Office in Maryland, which houses the foundation’s headquarters.

In 2016, Texas author, Kurt Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, was targeted by John Rayne Rivello, a Marine Corps veteran from Maryland, who used Twitter to send a GIF with a blinding strobe light via email.  The internet attack was politically driven and included a message written in all capital letters: ‘You deserve a seizure for your posts.’  Looking at the strobe caused an immediate seizure that lasted about eight minutes, according to court records.  The most current internet attack may have been inspired by the attack on Eichenwald.

“He slumped over in his chair,” said Steven Lieberman, Eichenwald’s attorney. “He was unresponsive, and he probably would have died but for the fact that his wife heard a noise – she’s a physician – and she pulled him away from the screen and got him onto the floor.”  Eichenwald’s wife, Theresa, called 911 and took a picture of the strobing light on his computer.

“This is his wife, you caused a seizure,” she replied to the Twitter account while authorities were on their way. “I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”

Investigators found several clues that led to Rivello’s arrest, including messages to other Twitter users about his plans, which read: “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and “let’s see if he dies.”

“Eichenwald still suffers from the seizure, both physically and emotionally, and continues to receive similar cyberattacks,” Lieberman said. “For a long time, he has been unable to hold his grandchild for fear that his lack of control over his limbs will potentially cause an injury to the child.”

Following the Epilepsy Foundation statement about the November attack, Eichenwald called out those who committed the act in a tweet: “When will these idiots figure out we won’t let them try to kill or hurt us anymore?”


Epilepsy Foundation Was Targeted in Mass Strobe Cyberattack

Trolls Sent Strobing GIFS to People With Epilepsy in A Targeted Attack During Epilepsy Awareness Month

Understanding Seizures and Epilepsy

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