Feeds

Oh, those crazy Syrian hackers: Now Wash Post, CNN, Time vandalised

Gawd darn it, can't anyone secure their websites?

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Syrian hacktivists claim they are the vandals responsible for scribbling over the websites of CNN, Time mag and The Washington Post yesterday.

But these latest boasts by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) are somewhat misleading, according to computer security experts who say that the hacking crew actually ransacked Outbrain - a marketing biz used by WashingtonPost.com, Time.com and plenty of others to provided links to related articles and stuff online.

It's understood the miscreants, who back Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, compromised Outbrain's systems and hijacked those embedded links to point to the SEA's website. Outbrain confirmed its security was breached, which it said was pulled off using phishing emails posing as messages to staff from its chief exec.

Marc Gaffan, co-founder of web security firm Incapsula, explained: "The cause of the breach was actually performed by sending phishing emails to all Outbrain employees which caused them to surrender their email passwords. With access to employee email accounts the hackers were able to obtain or reset passwords to the admin areas of the content marketing platform, leading to the visible part of the breach."

"If Outbrain's admin areas had two-factor authentication enabled on them, this could have been prevented," he suggested.

In a statement, The Washington Post added that one of its staffers did have his Twitter profile compromised by the SEA earlier this week, but explained that the main aspect of Thursday's hack relied on breaking into Outbrain's systems:

Earlier this week the Twitter account of one of our journalists was compromised as part of a larger attack aimed at social media management group SocialFlow, and Thursday an attack on content recommendation service Outbrain caused some of our stories to redirect to the the SEA homepage.

Outbrain responded to the hack by temporarily suspending its services. A detailed timeline on how the compromise unfolded can be found here.

The SEA, meanwhile, congratulated itself on drilling into Outbrain's control panels on its official Twitter account:

‪Outbrain's content-recommendation widget, embedded into web pages, is supposed to help internet publishers boost their online traffic. Users are offered links to articles and other stuff to read or watch.‬ SEA foot soldiers alleged they obtained access to Outbrain's email spools, but this remains unconfirmed.

The Syrian Electronic Army is a loose-knit hacker group loyal to President al-Assad. Its campaign of online disruption began in mid-2011, and has involved distributed denial-of-service attacks against servers, phishing emails to hoover up passwords, pro-Assad graffiti on websites, and spamming against governments, online services and media outlets that are perceived hostile to the government of civil-war-torn Syria.

Its speciality is firing off spear-phishing emails to hijack Twitter accounts and other social-networking profiles run by media organisations and use the compromised logins to push links to pro-Assad propaganda.

Victims over recent months include Al Jazeera, the Associated Press, BBC, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Guardian, Human Rights Watch, America's National Public Radio, Thompson Reuters and more. Over recent weeks the group diversified into attacking into the backend systems of VoIP apps, namely Viber and Tango. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about
NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family
Why did it take antivirus giants YEARS to drill into super-scary Regin? Symantec responds...
FYI this isn't just going to target Windows, Linux and OS X fans
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
HACKERS can DELETE SURVEILLANCE DVRS remotely – report
Hikvision devices wide open to hacking, claim securobods
'Regin': The 'New Stuxnet' spook-grade SOFTWARE WEAPON described
'A degree of technical competence rarely seen'
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
You stupid BRICK! PCs running Avast AV can't handle Windows fixes
Fix issued, fingers pointed, forums in flames
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.