News International pulled down the main Times and Sun websites yesterday after a fake ‘Murdoch dead’ news story was placed on the Sun website after a hack by Lulz Security.

The spoof story claimed that Rupert Murdoch had been found dead in his garden. Readers clicking on the hoax story on thesun.co.uk were redirected new-times.co.uk, where the story was placed, headlined ‘Media mogul’s body discovered’.

Lulz Security used Twitter to claim responsibility for the attack. Rupert Murdoch and his son James, as well as former editor Rebekah Brooks, are due to appear this afternoon in front of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

The Sun runs its website using Amazon Cloud services, though it is understood that Lulz security did not hack the core site. Instead they injected a preformatted HTML file into an old internal server at News International that is used to serve a content box which appears within pages delivered by the paper’s main Amazon Cloud delivered site. The spoof story claimed Murdoch had taken palladium, a radioactive substance, before dying in his garden.

Image via gizmodo.com

The Lulzsec hackers’ message warned Murdoch, “This is only the beginning”, and claimed to have a pile of News International emails that they would release.

The news has prompted an aggressive IT security clampdown at News International this morning.

Sources told Computerworld UK.com that News International’s staff have been issued with new login and password details, following the hacking attack, and that the company has also shut off remote access to its systems.

News International operates a Citrix virtual desktop system, which allows staff to ‘hotdesk’ and access their desktop on any PC in the firm's offices. Access codes for the virtual desktop, as well as News International’s content management system, are said to have been changed.

The Sun and The Times websites are back online, but the News International website was offline at the time of writing. News International declined to comment on how it was hacked, what was happening with its corporate website, or how it is tackling IT security concerns. It gave confirmation only that its newspaper sites were back online.

The news comes as The Guardian newspaper reported that police are examining a laptop dumped near former News of the World and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks’ flat in Chelsea. Brooks’ husband, Charlie, has claimed it is his and that it was in a bag accidentally thrown out by a cleaner, but this remains unconfirmed. Rebekah Brooks was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, and she was bailed the next day.

Rupert Murdoch, who is accustomed to his journalists writing stories on celebrities and other public figures, has in recent weeks found himself at the centre of the news as the hacking scandal grows.

The hack came as another of Scotland Yard’s most senior police officers, John Yates resigned. Yates decided in 2009 that there was no need to reopen investigations into alleged phone hacking by journalists on its News of the World newspaper, which has closed. Yates was about to be suspended.

Lulzsec also struck as Sean Hoare, a former News of the World journalist, who was the first reporter to expose hacking at the paper, was found dead.

[image via gizmodo]