Whether or not the United States and its allies decide to take military action against Syria—something that looks increasingly likely as the week grinds on—at least two companies seem to be cyber-casualties of the conflict.
The New York Times Website went down for more than three hours on Aug. 28. Marc Frons, the newspaper’s chief information officer, blamed the downtime on “the Syrian Electronic Army, or someone trying very hard to be them.” The attackers hit Melbourne IT, the domain name registrar for the Times company, which in turn knocked the main newspaper Website offline.
The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which supports the current Syrian government, has allegedly attacked a number of Websites over the past several months, including those belonging to The Washington Post and The Financial Times; according to The New York Times, the group also failed in an attempt to take down CNN’s Website.
Even as the Times’ IT staff fought to bring their Website back online, Twitter found itself in the crosshairs of an external attack.
“At 20:49 UTC [Aug. 27], our DNS provider experienced an issue in which it appears DNS records for various organizations were modified, including one of Twitter’s domains used for image serving, twimg.com,” read a note posted on Twitter’s Status Website. “Viewing of images and photos was sporadically impacted.” A little under two hours later, the company’s IT pros managed to fix the situation; Twitter claims that no user data was affected by the incident.
Soon after those DNS records were modified, A Twitter account associated with the Syrian Electronic Army posted a Tweet that read: “Hi @Twitter, look at your domain, its owned by #SEA :).” An accompanying screenshot of Twitter’s whois page listed firstname.lastname@example.org as the administrator email, rather than the usual email@example.com, which suggested the Syrian Electronic Army was indeed responsible for some sort of malfeasance.
The United States and other Western powers have been reluctant to participate in Syria’s two-year-old civil war, which has pitted the government of Bashar al-Assad against a coalition of rebel groups. However, last week’s chemical-weapons attack on civilians and rebel fighters in a Damascus suburb, which the U.S. blames on al-Assad’s government, might change the calculus of involvement.
If the U.S. chooses to launch a limited military strike against al-Assad, it will surely trigger a whole sequence of real-world events—but it remains to be seen whether such an action will translate into more attacks from cyber-forces allied with the Syrian government.