Hackers penetrated USA Today's Web site, replacing legitimate news stories on its home page and six other pages with phony stories riddled with spelling errors.
The bogus pages were viewable to readers of USAToday.com for about 15 minutes Thursday night before being discovered by newspaper officials at 11:05 p.m. EDT and taken offline, said company spokesman Steve Anderson.
He said USA Today shut down its entire site for three hours for repairs and to upgrade security.
Among the bizarre stories posted was an item about the Pope calling Christianity "a sham." Another was about the shape of the Pentagon being declared unconstitutional because it too closely resembles the Jewish star of David.
An Israeli flag replaced the site's top news photo, along with a phony story on Israel.
"The pages were very prankish and immature," said Anderson. "They were very poorly written, obviously phony news reports."
At least one of the bogus stories carried a falsified Associated Press identifier.
"We're currently tightening security at the site," Anderson said, adding that the intruders appear to have penetrated the Web server computers from outside the company's internal network.
USA Today reported the incident to police in Fairfax County, Va., where the company's offices are located.
Web pages of major news organizations are among the most common hacking targets because the sites are vulnerable by the simple fact of being connected to the worldwide public Internet.
Heavily trafficked news sites are also prime targets for publicity-seeking hackers, security experts say. In previous incidents, hackers have penetrated sites owned by The New York Times and Yahoo!
In the Yahoo case, content was altered.