Syrian Electronic Army says it hacked Obama accounts

The Syrian Electronic Army has taken credit for breaking into the Gmail account of at least one staff member at the Obama group Organizing for Action. The group is now taking extra security steps.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama uses a Macbook laptop during his live-tweet during the first ever Twitter Town Hall, July 6, 2011, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
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The Syrian hackers have been at it again.

This time, their apparent target was President Obama's Twitter and Facebook accounts. Or, more specifically, the shortened hyperlinks posted in those accounts.

For a few hours Monday, clicking on those links took readers not to the pages they were supposed to, but rather to a graphic 24-minute propaganda video on YouTube (since removed) apparently produced by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA).

Recommended: How much do you know about cybersecurity? Take our quiz.

The pro-Assad group later posted a screen shot of the hack, showing how it broke into the Gmail account of at least one staff member at Organizing for Action and from there was apparently able to alter the social-media links through ShortSwitch, a URL-shortening service.

The SEA claimed responsibility for the hacks, telling Mashable it was “showing the truth about Syria." It later posted on its Twitter account, "We accessed many Obama campaign emails accounts to assess his terrorism capabilities. They are quite high."

Quartz's Christopher Mims confirmed with the Obama campaign that the hack occurred. One of the staffers whose Gmail account was compromised told him that the campaign was taking extra security steps to prevent it from occurring again, including using Google's two-step authentication for log-ins.

It's hardly the first time the SEA has apparently infiltrated US accounts to spread propaganda. This year, it's been linked to cyberattacks on Time, The Washington Post, Twitter, the Associated Press, and The Onion, among others. In some cases, the SEA has hijacked Twitter accounts – in April, it sent out a false tweet about an explosion at the White House on the Associated Press Twitter feed – and more recently, it apparently infiltrated a third-party server used by multiple news agencies.

So far, the hacks mostly seem designed to spread propaganda and haven't caused lasting harm.

Increasingly, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's repressive government has been finding ways to use social media to its advantage, not just abroad but at home as well. After years of blocking social-media sites like Twitter and Facebook for its citizens, the government opened them back up as the Arab Spring swept through the region. A major reason: Mr. Assad's government has been able to crack down on dissidents and track activists through their activity on such sites.

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