The threat of the Syrian Electronic Army
By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer
While the world has been focused on the heinous sarin gas attacks in Syria of last month, another major attack went primarily unnoticed. This attack didn’t kill anyone, but it did have a major impact on the world for a brief period of time. The attack also signals the new direction that terrorists could be taking.
On August 27th, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)—which aligns itself with the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad—launched an online attack against the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Twitter. The websites for all three media outlets were compromised, and the New York Times website was down for a number of hours.
To a lot of people the attack may seem insignificant—probably why few people paid attention to the story or made a fuss about the SEA’s attack—but this is a very big deal. To know that a group of hackers can take control of three major media outlets is frightening. There was a time when terrorists sent the media their homemade propaganda tapes to air. Now it seems that the “bad guys” are able to take over the media and potentially publish what they want; the ramifications of this are severe.
Aside from the two major news outlets in the New York Times and the Huffington Post, it’s interesting how the SEA took down Twitter. Though Twitter is largely composed of raging One Direction fans and folks seeking a retweet from a celebrity, it’s also a major tool for people who spread and share useful information in real-time. Twitter is quickly growing around the world, and in war-ravaged areas it’s become extremely important. It’s a tool used by everyone, including American intelligence agencies, to gain real-time updates as to the conditions on the ground. No surprise then that some of the first reports of the Bin Laden raid were from a Twitter user who unknowingly live tweeted the event in Pakistan.
The SEA taking down Twitter is like cutting out phone service for many. Twitter is a line of communication. It can let people know that certain parts of a country are dangerous—again, so important in war-torn countries. Denying the world access to this tool is an offensive act and is surely just the start of a long-term problem. Unlawful targeting of media outlets by foreign forces is something that we should be worried about and do all we can to combat. Access to information is important if we want to know what’s going on around the world. If more news outlets get silenced, then it will be harder to know what’s really going on around the world. Heinous acts of war could then go unreported, and the only thing worse than a war crime is a war crime that goes unnoticed by the rest of the world. One way of making sure a war crime goes unreported is killing the method of news communication—let’s all hope that electronic warfare doesn’t get anymore sophisticated.
Yes, this does all sound rather over the top and alarmist, but the world is changing fast and technology is spreading quickly. The ways of war are changing, and our governments and institutions need to adapt.