A lot of people are gawking at Gawker Media this morning, though not for reasons that will bring much cheer to its founder, Nick Denton.

Gawker, parent to popular blogs as Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Jezebel, and ValleyWag, was caught with its pants down around its ankles while wearing clown makeup after a hacker group calling itself Gnosis took over the site.

Among other things, Gnosis took Gawker's source code and posted it on torrent sites, hacked into Gawker's content management system, and posted a bogus story on the Gawker home page linking back to the source code torrents. That was just for starters. The group also broke into the site's database, gaining access to email addresses and passwords for all of Gawker's staffers and more than 1 million readers who'd registered with the site. These too found their way onto pirate torrent sites, free for the download.

Why is Gnosis picking on Gawker? Because it thought Gawker was picking on 4chan, the group of digital delinquents that spawned the vigilante group Anonymous, as well as most of the Internet memes that have annoyed people for the last decade, such as lolcatz and Rickrolling.

In fact, Gnosis hacked Gawker's internal chat software and shared this little snippet of internal dialog among the site's staffers after 4chan launched a DDoS attack against Gawker last July [some material removed]:

Maureen O. it appears that there is dissent among the 4channers as to whether 4chan's attack on us means 4chan is pathetic and unscary now.

Hamilton N.be sure to point out that they are dorks for doing that.

Brian M. The headeline of your post should be "Suck on This, 4Chan"

Maureen O. I like the call to make today Everybody Write About 4chan Day

Hamilton N. Nick Denton Says Bring It On 4Chan, Right to My Home Address (After The Jump)

Ryan T. We Are Not Scared of 4chan Here at 210 Elizabeth St NY NY 10012

There's a lot of quiet chuckling going on across the Webbernets today. Gawker, which apparently aspires to be the National Enquirer of Web publishing, seems willing to do virtually anything to generate Web traffic, including pay $5,000 for purloined iPhone prototype and an unknown amount for a sleazy account of a one-night stand with a would-be US Senator. And that's just the very short list of Gawker media crimes. They're not the most sympathetic victims.

Their readers are a different story. They certainly didn't deserve this, and what may follow could be far worse than the original attack. This list of hacked logons includes dozens of members with US government email addresses, such as folks at the FDA, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NASA, National Institutes of Health, the US Congress, several state governments, and the Department of Homeland Security, to name but a few.

If these folks, like many people, use the same logons and passwords across the Internet, whoever downloads this information could have the keys to the proverbial kingdom. One hopes they're all paying attention to this scandal and know enough to change any passwords that match the ones they used on Gawker. I don't expect we've heard the last of this by a long shot.

On the other hand, this whole hacking scandal could just be another brilliant Gawker ploy to get traffic. They might have even paid Gnosis to do it. Given how Gawker has operated in the past, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility. In which case all I can say is, way to go Nick!

The bigger point: It seems lately that hacking has become the geek leisure activity of choice. That's not good news for any of us.