Syrian Enemies Battle over the Web

Government troops and rebels in Syria are fighting in villages and cities, but the civil war is also being played out on the internet.

The cyber war is being fought on a global scale as internet warriors and hacker activists - called hactivists - are forming cyber armies, according to a report by the security company McAfee.

The showdown focuses on the control of websites and on propaganda.

The Syrian Electronic Army supports President Bashar al-Assad. One of its members, an 18-year-old hacker, states on a blog with the Syrian internet domain ending .sy that he is "proud to be a pro-Assad hacker."

His "best achievements" include hacking the Harvard University website, as well as the systems of Arab television stations al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, he says.

The website of the Syrian Electronic Army, however, has also come under attack. A member of the pro-Israeli group ZionOps wrote in February that the website was easy to hack due to its outdated content management system, which had a number of security holes.

The Anonymous movement, under which the pro-rebel action OpSyria has formed, has also clashed with the Syrian Electronic Army.

After Anonymous activists defaced the Syrian Defence Ministry's website, pro-al-Assad activists hacked into the homepage of the Anonymous platform AnonPlus, publishing photos of dead soldiers and saying Anonymous was siding with the Muslim Brotherhood by supporting the rebels.

"Syria is a very, very serious business. Don't fuck around with it," warned a website of OpSyria activists.

The activists listed their own successes, including posting the statement "tango down permanently" on Syrian authorities' websites - an expression from war-like computer games such as Call of Duty announcing the death of an opponent. The website said the activists had set the Syrian mobile communications company Syriatel as their "new priority."

Another group, Telecomix, is adopting different tactics to support the Syrian opposition.

"I consider defacing foolish. Distributed denials of service (attacks crippling websites by flooding them with data) are also not very productive," said Telecomix hacker and Berlin resident Stephan Urbach.

"The Syrians know how bad their regime is," he says. Instead, Telecomix offers technical assistance to Syrians trying to secure free internet communication without being controlled by government censors.

Anonymous has a rule of not attacking the media, but an OpSyria website says an exception can be made when information from state media "harms the Syrian people." In such cases, a decision will be made based on discussions on the net and by "old, experienced Anons."

The website of the official Syrian news agency SANA was temporarily shut down recently. The other side, meanwhile, attacked the blogs site of the Reuters news agency last week, posting a fake interview that gave the impression that rebels had pulled out of Aleppo and other cities.

"The propaganda has moved onto the web," Urbach conceded, but said it was absurd to speak of a "cyber war." "That only mocks the people who are killed in Syria."

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