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Hacked Web Sites' Achilles Heel: Outbrain Service

Hacked Web Sites' Achilles Heel: Outbrain Service
By Seth Fitzgerald

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The Syrian Electronic Army has been gaining attention after hacking the BBC Weather Twitter account in March 2012. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- who has knowledge regarding computing -- has referenced his "electronic army" before, but no formal ties between the SEA and his regime have been established.
 


The Washington Post and multiple other Web sites were hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army this week. It appears the SEA was able to hack these sites by first gaining access to Outbrain.

Outbrain is a content recommendation service, and is used by all the major Web sites that were hacked throughout yesterday. After posting pictures, it was confirmed that the SEA had successfully entered the admin panel of Outbrain and compromised the sites that use its services.

CNN, Time, and the Washington Post were all affected by the hack and, as a result, users that tried to visit their sites were redirected to the Syrian Electronic Army Web site. The Washington Post acknowledged the hack had occurred, telling Mashable that the SEA "claimed they gained access to elements of our site by hacking one of our business partners, Outbrain."

Outbrain acknowledge the attack and said it immediately took down its service to protect its customers.

"The breach now seems to be secured and the hackers blocked out, but we are keeping the service down for a little longer until we can be sure it's safe to turn it back on securely," Outbrain told The Post in a statement. "We are working hard to prevent future attacks of this nature."

What Is the SEA?

The Syrian Electronic Army has been gaining attention since last year after first hacking the BBC Weather Twitter account in March 2012. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- who has knowledge regarding computing -- has referenced his "electronic army" before, but no formal ties between the SEA and his regime have been established. Instead, the SEA appears to be made up of professional hackers who simply have the same ideology as Assad.

The SEA appears to be going after anyone who says anything in opposition to Assad. Because of that, news organizations like Time and The Washington Post are targets because of their size and coverage of the conflicts within Syria. Many SEA attacks have been small, but the group has ramped up recently, attacking larger Web sites and using more sophisticated tactics.

SEA and Anonymous

The SEA and "hacktivist" group Anonymous have publicly shown a strong dislike for each other. Anonymous carries out hacks but tends to target people such as the SEA who spread disinformation about various political matters, whereas the SEA is just a pro-Assad group.

Although Anonymous members tend to be against government agencies like the CIA and FBI, a top-level SEA member named "Th3 Pr0" told alternative news Web site VICE, "Anonymous isn't one organization; there are many taking on that name, some of whom claim to be genuine fighters for justice but are actually FBI and CIA agents."

Even though the two groups do not like each other, both organizations are causing chaos online. Anonymous has carried out attacks against various banks as well as Sony's PlayStation services, whereas the SEA has generally been a small-scale hacking group using Denial-of-Service attacks.

An attack against the Syrian Ministry of Defense Web site from Anonymous prompted the hatred between the two groups to grow.
 

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