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Some hacker groups are known to take up noble causes. Others seek to sway the world’s opinion even if their position is an unpopular one. This is where the Syrian Electronic Army fits in. They are a group of hackers who are supportive of the Assad Regime and seek to promote it to the world. Several main SAE hacks and related activity will be explored below.

Nebulous Connection:

Much of the history of the Syrian Electronic Army is ambiguous, however there is a glaring connection to Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Al Assad was president of the SAE in the 1990s before he became president of Syria (3). While a direct connection with the Syrian government has not been established, it is clear the regime finds no issue with the activities of the SAE. President al Assad has even openly praised their activities (3).

Associated Press Hack/Stock Market Plunge:

In one of their most notorious hacks, The Syrian Electronic Army took over the Twitter account of the Associated Press. The SAE posted a fake message stating the White House had been attacked and the president had been injured (2). The fake tweet had a large impact on the stock market albeit a temporary one. The New York Stock Exchange lost over $100 billion in value before re-stabilizing an hour so later (2).

US Army Hack:

One of the Syrian Electronics Army’s more oddball hacks was on the United States Army’s website. The SAE did not inflict any damage or steal any data, however they took control of the U.S. Army website and posted a message stating ‘Your commanders admit the people they are sending you are going to die fighting’ (1). The message was cryptic to say the least. Its meaning left many scratching their heads. It would naturally be assumed the US Army would train soldiers to fight to the death. The fact remains that the US Army wasn’t putting boots on the ground in Syria so it remains unclear what people they are referring to.

Two SEA Members Identified:

The members of the SAE have been able to remain somewhat anonymous. Some have even suggested they may be from another country such as Iran. The FBI however identified two of their leaders -Almed Al Algha as ‘Th3 Pro’ and Firas Dardar as ‘The Shadow’ (4). This is squashed much of speculation of the SAE being based outside of Syria as both likely live within its borders. For all the sophistication these leaders have shown in hacking major news outlets and government entities, they exposed themselves through simple mistakes such as using Gmail accounts and not masking their IPs (4).

Summary:

The Syrian Electronic Army can be both cryptic and amusing. They seem to poke fun at the rest of the world while advocating for the despised Assad regime. While they certainly caused a large dip in the stock market, typically their actions amount to digital vandalism. The SAE operated for many years with a high degree of an anonymity until the FBI identified several other key members. While the SAE seems to operate complacently with the support of the Syrian government, they will not be able to hide from the rest of the world. The uniqueness of their purpose and tactics certainly make the SAE stand out as a notable hacker group.

To learn about other famous hackers chekc out these pieces from Careersin CareersinCybersecurity.com: Mudge and L0ft, Julius Kivimaki and the Lizard Squad, and Suba and Lulzsec.

References:

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/katevinton/2015/06/08/syrian-electronic-army-claims-responsibility-for-hacking-army-website/#6141a9e9197f
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/04/23/syrian-hackers-claim-ap-hack-that-tipped-stock-market-by-136-billion-is-it-terrorism/?utm_term=.52aa18a653a2
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/tech/syrian-electronic-army/index.html
  4. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/8q8qg5/how-the-fbi-identified-two-members-of-the-syrian-electronic-army