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Twitter-hacking Syrian Electronic Army: How much state support does it have?

The Twitter hacks by the Syrian Electronic Army – the most recent hit The Guardian – reflect a shift toward disseminating propaganda and attacking Syria’s perceived enemies in the media. 

By Staff writer / May 1, 2013

A screenshot of the Twitter account for the BBC's weather service on Thursday March 21. Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad appear to have hijacked the Twitter account for the BBC's weather service.

AP

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The pro-Syrian cyberhackers behind the recent attacks on major media outlets’ Twitter accounts claim to be members of a grass-roots organization defending the honor of the nation, but are likely nothing more than government-backed cyberwarriors, some researchers say.

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The hacks by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) on Twitter reflect an intensifying effort in recent weeks to disseminate pro-Syrian propaganda and attack Syria’s perceived enemies in the media. The emphasis marks an apparent shift for the group, which previously had focused more on attacking and defacing websites and Facebook pages of members of Syria’s opposition and others they perceived as anti-Syrian, according to close observers of the group.

The most recent attack came Monday, with the SEA hacking into several Twitter accounts belonging to the British newspaper, The Guardian.

Shortly after, Twitter warned news organization in an e-mail that their accounts could be vulnerable. Twitter has been shutting down the latest versions of the official SEA Twitter channel (the group was on its 12th) as fast as the San Francisco-based company can find them.

Citing “several recent incidents of high-profile news and media Twitter handles being compromised,” the company wrote that: “We believe that these attacks will continue, and that news and media organizations will continue to be high value targets to hackers.”

Twitter hack victims have so far included CBS, NPR, and the BBC. Previously hacked organizations included Human Rights Watch, Reuters, Sky News Arabia, and even the FIFA World Cup organization. The AP and BBC both reported that “phishing” e-mails were sent to their staff about the same time accounts got hacked.

But the biggest “twit-hit” was on April 25, when the official Twitter account of the Associated Press was hijacked and used to tweet a hoax that the White House had been hit by bombs and President Obama injured. The US stock market immediately plummeted 145 points, the fake news erasing an estimated $200 billion in market value – at least for a few minutes – before it rebounded.

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