Phishing for Syria


Forget about weapons of mass destruction, what about weapons of media destruction.

With one tweet — Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured — the group that calls itself the Syrian Electronic Army sent the Dow into a nose dive last week. It quickly recovered when it was explained that AP’s Twitter account had been hacked, but the faux alert rattled nerves and trading accounts.

“The aim of the SEA is to generate publicity,” an analyst told The Guardian, the latest victim of its Twitter hacks. The regime supporters have gone phishing for NPR, the BBC and “60 Minutes” and have defaced the home pages of Al Jazeera and Reuters.

It’s worth noting that Bashar Assad’s wife, Asma, has a college degree in computer science. Her husband was not only a computer geek, he was the head of the Syrian Computer Society who clicks too often on the PC-Mac simile.

He was eager to tell Vogue — in its tin-ear, March 2011 profile of his “glamorous, young, and very chic” first lady — that when he met Asma, “I was Mac and she was PC!”

In an October 2011 interview with the Daily Telegraph, he sought to portray himself as progressive as any leader in Europe or America.

Comparing Syria’s leadership with that of a Western country, he said, was like comparing a Mac with a PC. “Both computers do the same job, but they don’t understand each other,” he said.

Even though Assad is a nerd, he and his tech savvy coterie have been compromised. Opposition activists managed to get hold of the Assads’ user names and passwords and leaked roughly 3,000 of their personal emails to The Guardian in March 2012. The messages showed how Assad was becoming “increasingly reliant on media advice from a group of young, westernized Syrian expats. Most are women.”  One twenty-something devotee trolled Facebook to find negative posts about the regime and its brutal crackdown. She passed along the names to Assad, bemoaning the fact that most anti-regime posters used noms de guerre.

It’s doubtful Assad’s social media harem is behind SEA. But the group still has strong ties to Assad. Helmi Noman, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, told CNN that SEA’s domain name was registered to the Syrian Computer Society and that “it’s hosted on the network of the Syrian government.” SEA hackers are well-paid and based not in Syria, but in Dubai, according to opposition activists.