A part of many news watchers’ daily routine is checking in on their favorite online news sites. The New York Times website, for example, is a go to place for reliable information for over one million subscribers. However, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, around 4 p.m., instead of the traditional New York Times headline, subscribers were faced with a much different and cynical one.
A modern day army of cyber hackers took control of The New York Times website and redirected subscribers to a page that read, “Hacked by Syrian Electronic Army.” Calling themselves the SEA, these hackers held The New York Times website as their hostage till officials at the paper could reclaim it the next day on Aug. 28, Wednesday afternoon.
“Well we are at a point in history were hackers are becoming commonplace,” said Sharon Santus, Professor of Mass Communication at Bloomsburg University. In response to the hackers blocking the news source, Twitter and other social media outlets were used by The New York Times staff to continue their work and publish news. “This news organization has its mission to give information to the public, and the public counts on that information. Now, if the information we are getting is compromised in some way you can’t count on the reliability of the information. It’s a very serious issue,” said Santus.
As commonplace as this may be, this attack is not the first time The New York Times has been hacked by the SEA. Two weeks ago on Aug. 15, the SEA claimed responsibility for the hacking of The New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post website. Again the hackers had subscribers being rerouted to the Syrian Electronic Army website followed by counter hackers directing subscribers to an ‘Internal Server Error.’
“You could say this is an act of war, you could say this was an attack against one our most celebrated news organizations,” said Santus. Also, among the casualty in this cyber-attack was the Associated Press’s (AP’s) Twitter account. On Tuesday, Aug. 23, a message was published on Twitter stating that the White House had been bombed and President Barrack Obama had been injured. Within three minutes of the fake tweet, the United States stock market plummeted 143 points. Within minutes of the false Tweets release, AP spokesperson, Paul Colford, confirmed that the tweet was false. Moments after the of the confirmation that the tweet was false the stock market recovered.
The causes of these hacks are suspected to be involved with the ongoing Syrian civil war. Since 2011, Syria has been experiencing civil and political unrest as protesters, militia and civilians are calling for the resignation of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In the two years since, an estimated 100,000 people had died and many more are suffering from violence and bloodshed. The United Nations (UN) became involved when evidence of chemical warfare being used on civilians was uncovered earlier this month in the town of Damascus. The New York Times, among other news sources, have reported on the chemical attacks.
The SEA directly stated that they were in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. However, unlike traditional warfare were uniforms are clear across the battlefields that is not the case for computer screens. “The story is still unfolding; we don’t know who it is. It’s a group identifying itself as the Syrian Electronic Army, associated with the Syrian government, but who knows everyone has access to the internet or certainly hundreds of millions of people do. As the internet expands, more and more people are going to have access to the internet and more are becoming more efficient in how the internet works. When you have the number of people being proficient, they learn how to get more information and that is what is happening with hackers,” said Santus. For more information of the Syrian civil war check out this article on BUnow.