You can't employ good journalists without making a few enemies along the way, as National Public Radio recently learned the hard way. After putting the violent situation in Syria under the microscope, NPR found its site on the receiving end of vandalism, courtesy of the Syrian Electronic Army.
The SEA is a group of Middle Eastern hackers that acts as an attack dog for the current regime under President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government may back the SEA; at the very least, it offers no criticism for the group's illegal actions.
Over the course of the last year, the SEA has attacked a variety of news organizations, ranging from the BBC to Al Jazeera. The group has hijacked Twitter feeds, launched denial-of-service attacks and left its calling card at any news organization that offers criticism of al-Assad.
Its most recent attack appeared on the front of NPR's website around 11 p.m. EST on Apr. 15. A screenshot from security expert Brian Krebs shows that the SEA made two simple posts, both of which read, "Syrian Electronic Army was here." The site suffered no apparent damage, and neither its administrators nor its users were at risk of contracting malware.
SEA claimed responsibility for the attack, but would not elucidate much beyond that. "We will not say why we attacked @NPR … They know the reason and that (sic) enough #SEA #Syria," the organization tweeted. [See also: 10 Ways the Government Watches You ]
When pressed, the SEA revealed one more small reason behind its attack: "You can ask @deborahamos." Deborah Amos, an NPR reporter, has spent the better part of the last year providing hard-hitting coverage about the escalating violence in Syria — something that the brutal government would probably rather keep quiet.
Whether or not the SEA is government-backed, the group boasts a number of talented hackers within its ranks. NPR is likely not its last target, so exercise skepticism if a favorite newsfeed suddenly takes a decidedly pro-al-Assad bent.
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