Inside the Ring: FBI targets Syrian hackers

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A hacker group linked to the Syrian government was “highly effective” in conducting cyberattacks against social media over the past several months, according to an FBI advisory.

“The [Syrian Electronic Army‘s] primary capabilities include spearphishing, Web defacements, and hijacking social media accounts to spread propaganda,” the FBI said. “Over the past several months, the SEA has been highly effective in compromising multiple high-profile media outlets.”

The Aug. 30 notice states that the Syrian Electronic Army is a “pro-regime” hacker group that grew out of 2011 protests against the government. It has been “compromising high-profile media outlets in an effort to spread pro-regime propaganda.”

One new tactic used by the group is attacking third-party computer networks, including a Domain Name System registrar and a Web content recommendation site, the notice said.

The FBI also blamed the group for the high-profile cyberattack on the Twitter account of The Associated Press in April. The false tweet stated that President Obama had been injured. It sent stocks plunging more than 128 points in seconds, although the market recovered.

The incident highlights the damage that cyberattacks on social media can cause.

The FBI notice, issued as discussions about a U.S. military strike against the Syrian regime are underway, also warned that other hacker groups sympathetic to the Syrian Electronic Army also may take part in computer network operations against U.S. websites and networks.

“Please maintain heightened awareness of your network traffic and take appropriate steps to maintain your network security,” the FBI said, asking anyone who suspects cyberstrikes to contact its Cyber Task Force.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that one possible form of retaliation by the Syrian regime to a U.S. military strike would be a cyberattack.

“There’s actions he could probably seek to achieve in cyber,” Gen. Dempsey said. “And we are alert to all of the possibilities and are mitigating strategies in the way we’ve positioned ourselves in the region.”

Security specialists say the Syrian Electronic Army was founded several years ago by a computer group under President Bashar Assad. It is reportedly funded by a relative of Mr. Assad who owns Syria’s SyriaTel telecommunications and Internet service provider.

China ratchets up tensions

As world attention remains sharply focused on Syria and talk about a U.S. military strike, tensions are on the rise in Asia between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku Islands.

China this week carried out several military provocations near the islands.

On Monday, the Chinese military conducted the first known surveillance flight of an unmanned aircraft near the Senkakus, triggering protests from Tokyo and the scrambling of jet fighters.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon ( He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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