The Syrian government is using more sophisticated methods than brute force to maintain support for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The methods amount to plain old hacking, but the hacking is not likely to gain electronic world dominance
The Guardian reports that the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) launched an attack on its Twitter account this weekend. It says that the SEA has also attacked the accounts of the broadcaster al-Jazeera, the government of Qatar, and that of Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA. FIFA stands for the “Fédération Internationale de Football Association or in English the “International Federation of Association Football,” which is the international governing body of football.
Last week the SEA breached the Twitter account of the Associated Press, then tweeted that President Obama had been injured in a bomb attack at the White House. This caused a temporary 143-point drop of the Dow Jones industrial average. (The Guardian)
The SEA emerged two years ago. It has recently focused on western media organizations. Last month the SEA hacked into Twitter accounts for several arms of the BBC, including BBC weather, BBC Arabic Online and BBC Radio Ulster. The SEA launched an attack on several of the Guardian’s Twitter feeds, such as GuardianBooks, GuardianTravel and guardianfilm.
Spoof emails were sent to staff in order to tricked them into giving away sensitive information or details about the news organization that would allow the SEA to control systems such as its Twitter feeds. (The Guardian) This form of hacking is known as “phishing.” One common form of phishing is to direct users to certain web sites by advising them that system failures require them to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers. Hackers use this opportunity to steal the user’s information. (PCWorld)
Cybersecurity experts speculate that the SEA will target sites in order to spread propaganda for President Bashar al-Assad. Analysts and western intelligence agencies say that the SEA is a proxy for his administration. The SEA used the BBC Twitter accounts to express anti-Israeli sentiments and to proclaim “Long Live Syria,” and the “Syrian Electronic Army Was Here” Nine of the tweets was broadcast in an hour’s time. The SEA claimed that it targeted the Guardian for spreading “lies and slander about Syria.” (The Guardian)
Over the past two years, The SEA has hacked into dozens of Web sites and social media accounts. These including the accounts used by President Obama’s administration and those of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Amnesty International. The hackers also used a “60 Minutes” feed from the NBC show to insinuate that the Boston marathon bombing was conducted by the U.S. government, and that President Obama is planning to become a dictator by taking away America’s guns. None of the hackers’ efforts have had any long-term effects. (The Washington Post)
Syria has found new methods to prop up the Syrian dictator, though the efforts seem to embody quantity over quality.
Apparently the SEA released a video of its efforts. It replaced headlines on the website of the Financial Times (FT) with lines such as “Hacked By Syrian Electronic Army.” Messages on the FT’s Twitter feed asked “Do you want to know the reality of the Syrian ‘Rebels’?’” The SEA posted links on the Twitter feed to a YouTube video that supposedly shows blindfolded and kneeling members of the Syrian army being executed by Syrian rebels, the “al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant.” However the video could not be independently verified. (NBC News)
The United States government does not regard members of the al-Nasra Front as heroes. The State Department has indicated that “al-Nusra Front” is an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), which has been supplying money, weapons and manpower to the al-Nusra Front. The Obama administration has designated the al-Nasra Front as a “foreign terrorist organization.” (The Guardian)
The Post suggests that the pro-government hackers are using the Internet to uncover members of the opposition through advertisements in Facebook and Skype software. The software is embedded with spyware.
Software is clandestinely installed software used to gather information about an Internet user, intercepting personal data and transmitting the information to a third party. (Dictionary.com)
The SEA will likely continue trying to use the media to broadcast pro-Assad propaganda. If it intends to aim for electronic dominance of the world, it has so far obtained only fleeting success.
By: Tom Ukinski