Bassem Tellawi  /  AP
Pro-Syrian regime protesters hold Syrian flags and portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as they protest to show their support for the Addounia pro-regime TV channel, on the airport highway near Damascus, Syria.
By
updated 9/26/2011 6:54:25 PM ET 2011-09-26T22:54:25

Two online activist groups said Monday they hacked several official Syrian websites in the latest tactic to oppose President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime.

Online hackers RevoluSec and Anonymous said they were behind the latest Internet attacks, which targeted the websites of several ministries and some major Syrian cities.

The activists said they replaced the websites with caricatures of Assad and messages that read: "Don't let Bashar monitor you online."

The presence of larger-than-life photos of Assad throughout Syria combined with a brutal security crackdown on dissent serve as continuous reminders for Syrians of the government's watchful eye on anti-government activity. The government frequently blocks and disables Internet access in Syrian cities where protesters are demanding Assad resign.

Monday's Internet hacking comes as activists said at least four people were killed in central Syria. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,700 civilians have been killed in the government's crackdown on the uprising that began mid-March.

Thousands more have been detained as Syrians.

Anonymous said on its website that 12 websites had been defaced by RevoluSec. Most of the websites have since been restored, but some were still down. The cartoons of Assad have been removed.

Anonymous claimed responsibility last month for hacking into the website of Syria's defense ministry, which remains down.

"We hear that Syrian President Assad likes computers. Guess what? So do we," read a message on the Twitter account of RevoluSec Monday.

Anonymous had vowed last month to launch a cyber campaign against Assad's regime.

Assad, a British trained eye-doctor who succeeded his father as president, was once seen as someone who could herald reforms in Syria. Prior to becoming president in 2000, he headed Syria's Computer Society and pushed youth to become more computer-savvy.

Now activists seeking to oust him are using the Internet as a weapon against his rule, uploading graphic videos of assaults on protesters and using social media websites to organize protests and relay messages.

Syria has banned journalists from reporting on the unrest, but videos posted online by activists have offered a rare and crucial glimpse into the far reaches of the country where the military has been deployed to crush protests.

Assad's regime tightly controls traditional media outlets in Syria, such as television, radio and newspapers. State-run channels often blame the unrest on a foreign-inspired conspiracy and Islamic extremists.

Meanwhile Monday, a pro-Syria group of hackers briefly defaced Harvard University's website, replacing the home page with an image of Assad together with a message accusing the U.S. of supporting the uprising against him and threatening retaliation.

Harvard spokesman John Longrake says the attack appears to be the work of "a sophisticated individual or group."

The hackers posted a message claiming "Syrian Electronic Army Were Here," a reference to an apparent pro-Syrian government group that has conducted electronic attacks targeting opposition figures and their perceived backers.

Harvard took down the hacked website for several hours. The school is studying the attack to improve security.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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