How Serious is the Threat of Syrian Cyber Attack?
The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which supports President Bashar Assad’s regime, tweeted an article on Saturday outlining its ability and willingness to retaliate against any U.S. military intervention. The SEA’s power to actually make good on its claims is questionable.
The article, published by Hack Read, states: “The Syrian Electronic Army is threatening America stating that if Syria is attacked by the American military, they have many surprises for the world.” An SEA spokesperson told Hack Read that SEA will target banking systems, nuclear stations, power grids, airports, and more. SEA also claimed to have thousands of members.
Robert Windrem, Investigative Reporter for NBC News, paints a different picture: “The U.S. government isn’t too concerned with the threat by the group, which reportedly is run by a group of 20-something Syrian computer students.” U.S. officials have said Syria doesn’t have the serious capacity to do cyber damage like China and Russia do, according to Windrem.
SEA is believed to be behind cyber attacks that disrupted service on the New York Times website, Twitter, and some other media sites last week. An SEA spokesman told the BBC via email: “All the media outlets that we targeted were publishing false/fabricated news about the situation in Syria.”
SEA’s ability to effect serious damage may be in question, but it is certainly able to create confusion. The BBC pointed out a particularly effective SEA attack: the group hacked the Associated Press Twitter account and tweeted that U.S. President Barack Obama had been injured in an explosion.
It is unclear how directly connected the SEA is to the Assad regime. Helmi Noman is a senior researcher at the University of Toronto who has worked to track the SEA. He told Windrem he was able trace SEA back to the Syrian Computer Society. Assad is among the former presidents of the Society.