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By Didi Martinez and Shoshana Wodinsky
A battle between two of YouTube’s biggest users spilled into unsuspecting workplaces this week after a hacker caused office printers to spew out the same message: “PewDiePie is in trouble.”
The message was part of a prank, carried out by a hacker identifying on the print out as “Giraffe,” that was able to find internet-connected printers and use them to reproduce a document encouraging them to subscribe to the PewDiePie YouTube account — and warning them that their printer’s security was lacking.
A search on Twitter turned up no shortage of people who had been hit by the hack — and a person claiming responsibility told NBC News they were able to compromise around 49,000 printers in total.
“@pewdiepie this just came through the ticket printer for the police station next door #savepewdiepie,” tweeted one user sharing a picture of the handout several other users have said they’ve received as well.
“@pewdiepie why your people gotta hack my job printer breh??” tweeted another, showing that some people initially believed the YouTuber may have been the person responsible for the attacks.
The message printed on the flyers is part of an ongoing subscriber battle between Swedish YouTube personality Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, and an account called T-Series, which uploads Bollywood trailers and songs. Both accounts are vying for the No. 1 spot for YouTube subscribers, a title steadily held by PewDiePie.
The printed flyers made no direct threats or demands to those who received them, but told recipients that they should consider updating their printer’s privacy settings.
“Protip: Your printer is exposed to the internet,” the letter read. “Please fix that.”
By Friday morning, a person going by the Twitter username “TheHackerGiraffe” claimed responsibility for the flyers.
“Spread the word with your friends about printers and printer security! This is actually a scary matter,” read a Twitter post from the person claiming to be behind the prank.
PewDiePie, who has been responding to fans supporting his effort to secure the top spot, has yet to acknowledge the hack carried out in his name.
While it remains unclear whether the Twitter user is really the person behind the takeover, TheHackerGiraffe said in Twitter messages with NBC News that the hack was done using publicly available code and internet resources that can find “ports,” or channels used to transfer data to devices such as printers. When the code finds an unsecure port, it is then able to tell the printer to spit out a message.
“An amateur can do this,” TheHackerGiraffe told NBC News in a series of Twitter messages.
They added that the hack was not only about gaining support for a popular internet celebrity but also raising awareness about the vulnerability of these printers and other internet-connected devices to malicious attacks.
“Over 800,000 printers are exposed to the internet,” they said. “And you can do much worse than just print.”
The hacker said they were able to find these printers on Shodan, a search engine that allows anyone to browse the web to find devices — from printers and webcams to security cameras and traffic lights — that are hooked up to the internet.
“It may be that people don’t recognize the danger behind this, since it’s all hilarious and all,” they said. “But it’ll stop being funny when printers start running bitcoin miners or spitting out Russian propaganda.”
Nexus IT Support & Repair, a U.K. computer service firm, dedicated a blog post to the hack on, warning consumers about the security breach.
“Printers are generally the most insecure device in your home,” the company said in the blog post.