The fight over who gets to have the most-subscribed channel on YouTube spilled into the real world months ago when Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg fans started campaigning to raise awareness of the Swedish star. The grassroots effort has, for the most part, been in good fun — but recently, people on social media have reported being hacked by someone who is urging them to subscribe to PewDiePie.
Kjellberg has maintained his status as the top channel on YouTube for years now, but recently, his claim to the throne has been increasingly threatened by T-Series, a channel owned by an Indian music production company. T-Series’ growth rate in 2018 has been explosive: it currently has over 72 million subscribers, placing it behind Kjellberg by around 150,000 fans. Judging by T-Series’ subscriber trajectory, many onlookers estimate that the channel will eventually outgrow PewDiePie, but Kjellberg and his fans are putting up a fight.
Kjellberg’s recent uploads often feature segments where he asks fans to convince people to subscribe to him. As a result, PewDiePie fans have done everything from placing posters to playing Kjellberg’s diss track against T-Series at the club. One YouTuber launched a citywide advertising campaign where they bought every single billboard, radio spot, and local TV spot available in support of PewDiePie’s channel. Together, fans have ensured that Kjellberg remains narrowly ahead of T-Series for longer than anyone expected.
Over the last couple of days, Twitter users have been posting screenshots of unsolicited printouts from internet-connected printers that say that PewDiePie needs their help. “PewDiePie, the currently most subscribed to channel on YouTube, is at stake of losing his position as the number one position by an Indian company called T-Series that simply uploads videos of Bollywood trailers and campaigns,” the sheet says. The printout tells people to subscribe to Kjellberg and to “tell everyone you know” about the YouTube race. At the end, there’s an ASCII figure of a “brofist,” a gesture that Kjellberg is known for. The screenshots have no specific origin; users from Canada to the UK have purportedly received it.
A hacker on Twitter has claimed responsibility for the printouts, stating that the stunt is apparently their way of raising awareness of printer security.
According to @TheHackerGiraffe’s tweets, they took advantage of an open network port available on hundreds of thousands of printers worldwide. This is a known vulnerability that allows printers to receive data. To do it, the hacker claims that they used a tool called PRET that, according to its GitHub page, allows attackers to “captur[e] or manipulat[e] print jobs, accessing the printer’s file system and memory or even causing physical damage to the device.”
“Your printer is exposed,” TheHackerGiraffe told a user on Twitter. “I’m trying to warn you to close it, how else am I gonna get your attention?”
“I didn’t think this would work when I did it,” TheHackerGiraffe said on Twitter. The Verge has reached out to the hacker asking for proof tying them to the exploit, and we will update this post once we hear back.
Update November 30th 1:10 PM: TheHackerGiraffe told The Verge that he got the idea for the hack while browsing Shodan.io, a repository for internet-connected devices. Here, they claim that they found 800,000 available printers, and decided to attack 50,000 of them.
“People underestimate how easy a malicious hacker could have used a vulnerability like this to cause major havoc,” TheHackerGiraffe said. “Hackers could have stolen files, installed malware, caused physical damage to the printers and even use the printer as a foothold into the inner network.
“The most horrifying part is: I never considered hacking printers before, the whole learning, downloading and scripting process took no more than 30 minutes.”