An activist has made a script to flood a Texas website used to solicit information on people seeking abortions with fabricated data, according to a TikTok video from the developer and Motherboard's test of the tool. The developer, whose social media identifies him as Sean Black, also made an iOS shortcut making it easier for non-technical activists to participate as well.
The news highlights the virulent reaction to Texas' draconian abortion law, which went into effect overnight on Wednesday after the Supreme Court voted to not act on the law. The law bans abortion of fetuses over 6 weeks old—many women are not even aware they are pregnant until after that time—and allows abortion providers, people who seek abortions, and even those who drive people to receive an abortion to be sued and potentially pay damages of at least $10,000. An anti-abortion group called Texas Right to Life recently launched a website for people to report those who have violated the law.
"To me the McCarthyism era tactics of turning neighbors against each other over a bill I feel is a violation of Roe V Wade is unacceptable. There are people on TikTok using their platform to educate and do their part. I believe this is me doing mine," Black told Motherboard in an email.
In the first video, Black says the script sends one request to the Texas website around every 10 to 15 seconds. In the second, Black adds that the script sent around 300 requests in all at the time of upload before the site blocked his IP address.
Black told Motherboard that the idea came from his TikTok mutual @victoriahammett.
"Her video about the website inspired the idea for automation. The details were hammered out by myself though," he wrote.
Black said over 4170 people have clicked on the code, and 4870 have clicked on the shortcut itself, according to data from his Linktree page.
In response to the IP ban, Black found a way to essentially outsource this approach, and created an iOS shortcut so anyone with an iPhone can easily replicate what he did. iOS shortcuts are essentially predetermined commands that can be bundled together and executed when a user just taps the shortcut on their device. Here, the shortcut picks a random Texas city, county, and ZIP code and other required information, and then inputs that data into the reporting form, Black said in the video. To use the shortcut, users just need to visit the Texas website, click the Share button, and then click the shortcut.
Do you know about any other forms of digital activism against the Texas abortion law? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email email@example.com.
"Because it uses realistic information it makes it harder for them to parse their data," Black adds.
In Motherboard's test, we had to turn on "Allow Untrusted Shortcuts" in an iOS device's settings before being able to run the shortcut. On Thursday, the Texas website displayed a captcha, presumably in an attempt to stop automated submissions. But simply completing the captcha first and then running the shortcut bypassed this. The site then displayed a thank you message for the submission.
Regarding the captcha, Black said "While I feel its best to not reveal how I intend on dealing with this hurdle, I will say I am working on a solution."
The Texas website also blocked connections from at least some countries outside of the United States according to Motherboard's tests.
Update: This piece has been updated to include comment from Black.
Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast CYBER, here.