Outage Summer: What To Know About The Syrian Electronic Army

In the latest hacking that brought down The New York Times on Tuesday, evidence points to the activist group of hackers known as the Syrian Electronic Army. This group also took out The Washington Post briefly last week, and has used phishing attacks to take control of NPR.org and other national news organizations in previous months. The Washington Post notes:

Several news Web sites, including The Washington Post, were affected by a breach at the third-party content provider Outbrain, which redirected some visitors to sites promoting the online activist group, the Syrian Electronic Army.”

You may recall The Times just suffered a two-hour outage earlier this month, but a spokesperson blamed that on an internal error and not a “malicious external attack,” which is how she described today’s incident.

So Who Is The Syrian Electronic Army?

The SEA is a group of anonymous computer hackers who support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. The group seems to have emerged during the rise of anti-regime protests in Syria in the spring of 2011. While Assad has a background in computing, The Post reports that “the group’s formal ties to the administration are unclear.”

Biggest ‘Hits’

The SEA has been hacking social media accounts associated with major news organizations and human rights organizations. It successfully hacked the Associated Press’ Twitter account in April and erroneously tweeted that the White House was bombed and that President Obama was injured. That tweet sent the stock market spinning, briefly losing $136 billion in value. (On Tuesday, the SEA reportedly hacked Twitter’s registry accounts and altered contact details and domain name server information, The Next Web said.)

Targets And Motivations

Prominent names are on the list of SEA victims. They include the AP, BBC, NPR, Human Rights Watch, Al-Jazeera, The Washington Post, The New York Times and a number of Twitter accounts associated with these organizations. When the group attacked NPR in April, this statement appeared on the SEA’s Twitter page, an account that is now suspended:

“We will not say why we attacked @NPR … They know the reason and that enough #SEA #Syria.”

As our Two-Way blogger Mark Memmott noted, another message read, “We hope that NPR got our message #Syria.”


These attacks come as U.S. leaders ramp up their language about how Syria should be held accountable for chemical attacks on its people.

“While the SEA frequently makes attacks that aren’t particularly clear in their intention, others have clearly targeted tools that are used throughout the Middle East by rebels,” writes technology site The Verge.

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