Security snoops identify leaders of pro-Syrian hacker brigade

Security specialists are exposing the identifies of anonymous leaders of the pro-Syrian computer hacker brigade, the Syrian Electronic Army, who turn out to be teenagers and young adults with more conviction than expertise.

Leading computer security blogger Brian Krebs said Thursday he had identified one of the group’s administrators as a 23-year old computer graphic designer calling himself Mohamad Abd al-Karem.

On his website, mohamadstudio.com, Mr. al-Karempictured wearing a Chicago Bears jersey — says in broken English that he was born in the United Arab Emirates, studied computing in Syria and now lives in Turkey.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. al-Karem denied having any links to the Syrian Electronic Army, which repeatedly and successfully has attacked computer networks used by U.S. media outlets, most recently knocking The New York Times website offline for 20 hours this week.

“I am not one of them,” he said via email.

Mr. Krebs said on his blog that he had traced Mr. al-Karem through an email address used to register a website for the Syrian Electronic Army, which in turn linked to other email and social media accounts, including a Facebook page under the name Mohammed Osman.

Mr. Krebs notes that shortly after Mohammed Osman’s Twitter account @osmancode went dark in April, @mohamadabdalkarem started to tweet.

Another social media page linked to the same accounts says in Arabic that its owner is a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a political movement that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Mr. al-Karem did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about Mr. Krebs‘ evidence.

Independently, the news website Vice.com said it had identified another leading member of the army, called ThePro, through a credit card used to rent Internet services for the group. The website named him as Hatem Deeb, 19.

In an email to Vice.com, ThePro also denied he is a member of the electronic army. He said Mr. Deeb is a friend whose credit card had been used for a transaction.

Both Mr. Krebs and Vice.com seem to be mining the same data trove of data stolen by hackers from the Syrian Electronic Army’s website when U.S. sanctions against Syria force it to move its Internet provider to Russia.

The group “inadvertently left a digital paper trail that may reveal the identities of their highest profile members,” Vice.com said.

“Many security researchers [have] dismissed the [Syrian Electronic Army] as mostly a group of tenacious but relatively unskilled hackers,” Mr. Krebs said.

Vice.com agreed, calling some of the techniques the group has used “relatively primitive” and “downright amateur.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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