Hackers targeted Al Jazeera websites overnight, replacing the homepages with a statement saying it was done in protest against the Doha-based television station’s coverage of the Syrian conflict.
During the cyber attack that lasted several hours, visitors to Al Jazeera sites were redirected to a web page with a Syrian flag. A statement on the page said the attack was executed “in response to your stand against Syria (the people and the government) and for support for militant terrorism”.
A statement from Al Jazeera said the attack did not compromise Al Jazeera’s web server directly, but a third-party service provider that distributes the station’s online content worldwide had its security breached.
The station said US authorities were investigating the attack since the content distributor was based in that country.
The Gulf state of Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based, has been a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against his rule started last year.
Syrian Electronic Army
Since the start of the Syrian uprising, hackers believed to be Assad supporters have frequently vandalised websites to promote pro-government messages. Pro-Assad hackers calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army have taken responsibility for many of these attacks.
In August 2012, news agency Reuters had its blogging platform hacked. “Fabricated blog posts were falsely attributed to several Reuters journalists,” a Reuters statement said.
Human rights group Amnesty International also saw its blog defaced by hackers, who wrote posts purporting to show the organisation siding with the Syrian government. One post claimed Syrian rebels were responsible for the Houla massacre, whereas Amnesty’s position is the opposite: that the Syrian government and militias were responsible.
Even Harvard University had its website defiled by the Syrian Electronic Army a few months ago.
The group also apparently tried to shut down pages on the social networking site Facebook that had views critical of the Syrian government.
Energy firms under fire
The attack on Al Jazeera came after a slew of recent web strikes on Gulf-based energy firms.
On August 27, malware damaged the IT and administrative services of Qatar-based natural gas firm RasGas, although the virus did not affect gas production or delivery, Doha News reported. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
Oil company Saudi Aramco suffered a recent virus attack, thought to be Shamoon malware, that affected about 75 per cent of the company’s computers. It was not fully fixed for about two weeks. A group calling itself the “Cutting Sword of Justice”, which opposes Saudi Arabia’s ruling al-Saud family, claimed responsibility.
Like Qatar, Saudi Arabia also supports the Syrian rebels.