Why the Syrian Electronic Army loves to hack the American media

from washingtonpost.com: The New York Times web site went down on Tuesday afternoon in an
external cyber attack that appears most likely committed by the Syrian
Electronic Army. The informal pro-Assad hacker collective has made a
habit of targeting prominent Western media outlets, typically by seizing their Twitter feeds
but sometimes hitting their sites as well. They’ve gone after the
Associated Press, Washington Post, Agence France-Presse, 60 Minutes, CBS
News, National Public Radio, even the Onion.

So why do they do it? The group appears, based on its past attacks,
to have pretty simple motivations: attention for itself and punishment
for Western media organization they perceive as biased against Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Electronic Army actually makes a
lot more sense if you think of them as pranksters who also happen to
love Assad than as state-aligned hackers in pursuit of concrete goals.

The effect of the hacks is typically not to steal information or
sabotage institutions, but rather to hijack the targeted outlet for a
few minutes, plastering it with the group’s message and perhaps some
condemnation of U.S. policy toward Syria.
Their hacking power seems to
exist purely to demonstrate their hacking power, taking down popular
sites purely to claim credit for it. To paraphrase the great Web comic
XKCD, it’s less like breaking into the New York Times than defacing the
New York Times.

Past hacks have posted social media “memes” or other large-font messages, typically in colloquial English, lampooning Western media
and fist-pumping on behalf of the Assad regime. It’s yet another
indication that the Syrian Electronic Army is far from some Damascus-run
formal Syrian enterprise, but more likely an informal network of young
volunteer hackers; slacktivists for a bad cause.

As my colleague Caitlin Dewey has written,
hacks like this are good for publicity – the SEA even released a
dramatically soundtracked video of one attack — but they don’t have much
staying power because the institutions quickly see the hack and
recover. The hacks get a lot of attention and that’s pretty much it.

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