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.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
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.

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).

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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.