The website for the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia—which became the focus of intense debate and Trump supporter protests after declining to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last week—contains code linking to erectile dysfunction treatment.
In the latest bizarre turn of events for the eatery personally targeted by the U.S. president Monday, the site now contains code linking to a page selling “general Viagra” in Australia. The script, which was showing up in Google search results, contains links to several online stores selling cheap antibiotics. It remains unclear if the mix-up is the result of intentional tampering or an issue with ad code.
Sanders took to Twitter on June 23 to reveal she had “politely left” the Lexington Red Hen the evening prior. She had been asked to leave by the restaurant’s co-owner because she worked for the president.
The tweet has caused a storm of social media controversy this week, with Yelp reviews being abused and online accounts using the name Red Hen being trolled. Trump supporters have gathered outside the Virginia restaurant holding flags and wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats, while local media outlets reported on Tuesday that one protester had even thrown feces at the building.
On Wednesday, malware analyst Chris Boyd told Newsweek that the website may have been exploited for the purposes of search engine spam, branding it as a “longstanding black hat tactic.” The aim is to game search engine optimization (SEO) by inserting links into a popular website, he noted.
“Injecting redirection code to Viagra spam portals on a site currently at the heart of US-centric news is a dream come true for hackers, and they’ll no doubt be hoping to capitalize on an inevitable traffic boost to the restaurant’s website,” Boyd, who works for anti-virus firm Malwarebytes, continued.
“It runs on WordPress. It’s possible they leveraged an exploit targeting the blogging platform to get in, but there doesn’t appear to be any malicious code currently targeting visitors. Having said that, people may want to resist the temptation to take a look until the site owners can get things under control.”
USA Today reported the store will not open again until July 5, while the restaurant’s co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson has since resigned from her job as executive director of Main Street Lexington.
The restaurant did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek.
Trump on Monday stoked the flames by claiming: “The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!” Critics pointed out health violations at Trump’s own facilities.
Online review service Yelp has become a comment battleground in the wake of Sanders’ tweet and was this week forced to warn readers about the potentially skewed results as a result of news coverage.
A pop-up now reads: “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.” The amount of Yelp reviews has spiked to more than 14,800. It had around 5,000 before the incident.
According to NBCNews, Sanders will this week be provided with a temporary Secret Service detail.