Reuters has been scrambling to tighten its Internet security since Friday, when one of its blogs started spontaneously featuring "inaccurate and unauthorized" reports of rebel forces gaining ground in Syria. As if that weren’t enough, one of its Twitter feeds was apparently targeted by pro-government hackers on Sunday. The hijacked account was hastily renamed and immediately began falsely tweeting about a rebel collapse in Aleppo, then went on to accuse the White House of arming al Qaeda militants in Syria in an effort to undermine the regime.
Reuters played down the impact of the cyberattacks in an article published on Tuesday:
"While some of the false blog posts were at least briefly shared via social media by readers who believed they were honest reports from Aleppo, it is far from clear whether anyone in the embattled city itself ever saw them."
Cyberwarfare has been utilized by both sides of the Syrian conflict since its early days. Reuters mentions another incident that took place on Monday, when a fake Twitter account claiming to belong to a senior Russian official sensationally tweeted that President Bashar al-Assad was dead. An Italian schoolteacher later claimed to be the perpetrator of the hoax. Reuters even admits, rather sheepishly, that it was caught up in the "flurry of speculation and telephone calls" prompted by his tweets.
Reuters is not the first news outlet targeted by cyberattacks since the beginning of this conflict, either. Al Jazeera suffered a similar embarrassment in July, when one of its Twitter accounts was infiltrated by the pro-Assad hacker group, Syrian Electronic Army. That Twitter feed accused the Qatari television station of fabricating civilian casualties in Syria.
In March, an opposition group called Supreme Council of the Revolution hacked into Assad’s private email account, releasing correspondence that allegedly took place between Assad and his wife Asma.
The regime in turn reportedly used social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to track members of the opposition, sending them tainted links containing spyware and creating fake accounts in an attempt to ferret out their identities.
Although it’s not clear how much impact these cyberattacks have had on either side, they are an interesting manifestation of the long and bloody conflict taking place on the ground.