Operation Hamburger Helper synopsis

[Update, 5 February 2020: See “An Edit of the Third Kind” below.]

Earlier this year, a vandal sabotaged over 3000 Openwaterpedia pages. The bulk of the damage was meant to divert attention from a short list of main targets—the entries for fifteen of the best marathon swimmers of the 1970s.

To zero in on those entries, the vandal used a simple but clever algorithm that changed every “7” to a “6.” This effectively moved all 1970s swims into the 1960s.

The vandal made other edits too—for instance, changing every “3” to “4”—but those alterations were meant to create a smokescreen behind which the culprit hid the real targets. By the time the vandal finished, Diana Nyad could reasonably claim to be one of the best marathon swimmers of the seventies. A researcher depending solely on Openwaterpedia data would have to believe her.

What follows is a synopsis of the information that I’ve uncovered so far during  Operation Hamburger Helper[1] and write about in “How a Hacker Made Diana Nyad the Best Marathon Swimmer of the 1970s.”
  1. Named in recognition of the eight “hamburgers” and two “hamburguesas” that the vandal added to the page of Antonio Argüelles.


Patrol Logs

On January 31, 2019, after over seven years of continuous activity, patrolling abruptly stopped. The vandalism began two weeks later.

The Vandal’s Accounts (all dates in 2019)
AlexArevalo Feb 15 Feb 15 2
GlennMiller Feb 15 1
Jolyn12 Feb 21 – Apr 15 505 Apr 16
MarcyMacD Mar 28 – Apr 24 6 Sep 14
KCassidy Apr 20 Apr 20–24 2813 Apr 24
TomBell Apr 20 – Jul 11 3

The saboteur’s choice of usernames implies a thorough knowledge of marathon swimming:

Further notes on the vandal’s accounts:

  • Jolyn12 makes all target-page edits on March 3 – 4, sandwiching them in between the diversionary changes.
  • AlexArevalo legitimately fixed the page of Achilleas Tsimpogiannis, then vandalized the page of Antonio Abertondo a few minutes later.
  • Bots opened thousands of other accounts, possibly as another diversion, around the same time that Jolyn12 and KCassidy, et al., came into existence. Few if any of those accounts edited any pages. See, for example, SeymourBzm, Dauphindudésert (French for “Desert dolphin”), and  TahliaSnowball.

Vandalism Timeline

February 15 — the vandal’s first edits

February 21 — the vandal experiments 

  • 16:20 — Jolyn12 account makes its first edit, adding a legitimate link to Gerrit Curcio.
  • 19:07 — Jolyn12 adds a legitimate (though subsequently broken) link to Adam Moine, the first of four edits in quick succession.
  • 19:11 — In the second edit to Adam Moine, Jolyn12  makes three changes: every “3” becomes “4,” every “a” becomes “4,” and every “b” becomes “3.”
  • 19:14 — Jolyn12 undoes its previous edit.
  • 19:39 — Jolyn12 revisits Moine’s page and just makes the “3” to “4” substitution.

March 2 — the vandal tests the critical substitution

  • 18:59 — Jolyn12 vandalizes Abilio Couto, changing every “7” to “6” for the first time.
An Edit of the Third Kind

[Update, 5 February 2020: Though some links broke in the domain change from dailynews.openwaterswimming.com to openwaterswimming.com, covering up the problem was likely not the purpose of this edit-of-the-third-kind as I had previously thought. Rather, the hacker substituted a Cyrillic “ѕ” for the Latin “s” in “openwaterswimming.” In fonts that have Cyrillic characters, both letters look exactly the same. The hacker made this substitution to tens of thousands of links, invisibly breaking every one of them.]

The vandal made the 7→6 and 3→4 substitutions on almost every sabotaged page.  The 3→4 change is, I believe, a diversion. But it’s not the most striking one. That would be the substitution of  “openwaterswimming” for “openwaterswimming” in URLs.  In other words, the culprit went to some trouble to fake thousands of edits.

Why? Possibly to provide an excuse for tens of thousands of links that someone broke while changing or moving the site.

Faked Edit/Broken Link Example: When the Jolyn12 account hit John Kinsella’s page on March 4, it made over 30 “openwaterswimming” to “openwaterswimming” URL non-edits. Some of those URLs experienced no other changes, so they should still work. But they don’t, and they very likely didn’t work on March 4 either. As a matter of fact, every link that begins with dailynews.openwaterswimming no longer functions.
For instance, look at the first dailynews.openwaterswimming link on the Kinsella page. You’ll find that link in the 7th box below “Line 26.” The link should take us to the article “Round And Round They Swam 24 Hours In 15°C”: http://dailynews.openwaterswimming.com/2012/11/round-and-round-they-swam-24-hours-in.html. But it doesn’t.
We can also find the same article, albeit title-less and date-less, on the new WOWSA site: https://openwaterswimming.com/2012/11/round-and-round-they-swam-24-hours-in/

So sometime between 2016 and early 2019, someone inadvertently left tens of thousands of broken links scattered throughout Openwaterpedia. To hide the mess, the saboteur, in a curious act of charity, tried to gather them up and submerge them under a flood of fake edits.

Diana Nyad: A Special Case

For the vandal’s plan to work, Diana Nyad’s 1970s swims had to remain in their decade-of-origin. But the vandal also wanted Nyad’s page to appear sabotaged. To achieve this end, the culprit hit Nyad’s page but undid the changes within minutes:

  • March 3, 22:39: Jolyn12 vandalizes Nyad’s page, moving all 1970s swims into the 1960s.
  • March 3, 22:48: Jolyn12 undoes the vandalism, moving all of Nyad’s swims back where they belong.
The Main Targets—(Almost) All of the Best of the ’70s
  • Tina Bischoff
  • Sandra Bucha
  • Lynne Cox
  • Jon Erikson
  • Tom Hetzel
  • Horacio Iglesias
  • John Kinsella
  • Dennis Matuch
      • Alawi Mohammed Makki Al-Ibrahim
      • Kevin Murphy
      • Cynthia Nicholas
      • Claudio Plit
      • Des Renford
      • Stella Taylor
      • John York


Some Non-Targets

Excellent ’70s marathoners
not in IMSHOF:

  • Corrie Ebbelaar
  • Magdy Mandour
  • Samia Mandour
  • Ossama Rashad
  • Marwan Saleh

Friends & Family:

  • Steven Munatones
  • Skyler Munatones
  • Sydney Munatones
  • Sofia Munatones
  • Lexie Kelly, Sexy Lexie
  • Damien Jordan (Steven’s cousin)






The Mystery Duo
Of all IMSHOF-member swimmers of the ’70s, the vandal skipped just two:

  • Penny Dean — Steven Munatones has said that Penny was his swimming idol.
  • Cindy Cleveland — A teammate of Penny’s and another SoCal idol candidate.

The Previous Attack on Openwaterpedia

In 2014, bots created tens of thousands of new accounts (see these 500 examples). These accounts either did nothing—see, for instance, AgnesApplebaum—or went no further than creating and sometimes editing their own user pages.

For example, the account of ReyesIncarnacio went dormant after doing nothing but create a user page:

Hello, dear friend! I am Star. I am pleased that I could unite to the whole globe. I live in Switzerland, in the south region. I dream to visit the different nations, to look for acquainted with interesting people.

Review my web site; dragon city free hack gems (her latest blog)

Clint3763qlaaey created a user entry, revised it fourteen times, then stopped all activity.  Here’s the final draft:

I'm Jeffery and I live in a seaside city in northern Australia, Bloomsbury. I'm 28 and I'm will soon finish my study at Creative Writing.

Feel free to surf to my website :: critical essay help

As you can see, this incursion had nothing to do with the recent sabotage. It had no bearing on marathon swimming and was solely a barrage of spam accounts.[2]

  1. Bots created over 30,000 accounts in 2014, all but about 30 of them in July and August. For comparison, here’s how many new accounts appeared from the beginning of OWP:
    2011 – 631
    2012 – 7,749
    2013 – 89
    2014 – 31,063
    2015 – 13
    2016 – 0
    2017 – 4
    2018 – 0
    2019 – 37,890

<°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>

The Fix

In July, Steven posted “Shameful, Simply And Sadly Shameful,” in which he decried the OWP vandalism. Yet, for all practical purposes, he did nothing to repair it until months later.

When he did begin fixing pages, he seemed to go out of his way to leave the vandalism intact. He didn’t use the “undo” function, which can almost instantaneously reverse all of a page’s damage. Instead, he fixed pages manually. This proved both excessively time-consuming and ineffective.

On November 16, another administrator began clicking “undo,”  taking seconds to repair what would have taken Steven hours.


IMSHOF Swim Inductee Vandalism Spreadsheet. See the key below.

The vandal hit 75% of IMSHOF swim inductees. This spreadsheet lists them along with other information about their entries.

Key to the IMSHOF Swim Inductee Vandalism spreadsheet.

OWP has 19,291 entries in its “People” category at the time of this writing. The vandal edited 3,330 pages, so a bit less than 20% of the total number of “People.” The vandal, then, was clearly targeting IMSHOF swimmers—and, within that group, IMSHOF swimmers of the 1970s.