Who is the Syrian Electronic Army?

Josh Peterson Contributor
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In response to U.S. support for the al-Qaida affiliated rebels inside of Syria, a pro-Assad collective of hackers is waging its own war on the U.S. media.

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) — a hacker collective supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — hacked the Washington Post on Thursday in what was only the latest attack in SEA’s hacking spree against Western media.

The Washington Post notes that SEA — which denies any formal affiliation with the Assad regime — “targets both dissidents within Syria and ‘sympathizers’ outside the country.”

“But that ‘sympathizer’ label appears to be applied to anyone who talks about the Syrian conflict in almost any context without expressly endorsing the Assad regime,” reports the Washington Post.

Two days prior to the attack on the Washington Post, SEA attacked the New York Post’s Facebook page, as well as some of its journalists Twitter accounts. The blog, Facebook page and Twitter accounts of social media firm SocialFlow was also attacked, reports The Daily Beast’s Brian Reis.

SocialFlow manages the Facebook and Twitter accounts of “scores of media outlets,” wrote Reis.

In July, SEA hijacked the Twitter feed of Thomson Reuters and posted pro-Assad graphics, CNET reported.

Reis also reports that the group was allegedly started by a collective of nine college students in Syria, although in May former Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys reported the core of SEA consisted of four individuals.

Keys, who had been indicted in March by the Justice Department for conspiring with the hacktivist collective Anonymous, conducted the interview three days before SEA hit the Financial Times and just over a week after the hackers hijacked the Twitter account of parody news site The Onion.

That same month, SEA was credited with defacing several Android apps belonging to British Sky Broadcasting Group (Sky), resulting in the removal of the apps from the Google Play store.

In April, SEA went after the Twitter accounts of the Associated Press, and 60 Minutes. The group hacked NPR’s website that same month. In March, BBC’s weather, Arabic, and Radio Ulster Twitter feeds were commandeered by the hackers.

“It has been particularly active in the past six months, and may have been launched in retaliation to the hacking of private Assad family emails, which were released in early 2012,” notes the Telegraph in April.

One year prior, however,  the Times of Israel reported in April 2012 that the SEA was a prime weapon the Assad-regime’s “cyber crackdown,” which has also included cutting off Internet communications of its citizens.

Assad — who headed the Syrian Computer Society — publicly affirmed his support of SEA in June 2011, three months after the conflict erupted in Syria.

“Young people have an important role to play at this stage, because they have proven themselves to be an active power,” said Assad.

“There is the electronic army which has been a real army in virtual reality,” he said.

SEA has also sparred with the hacktivist collective Anonymous, which has been hacking in favor of the rebels in Syria.

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