[ View the story "New report exposes digital front of Syria's civil war" on Storify] New report exposes digital front of Syria's civil war Citizen Lab authors 'deeply concerned by the reemergence of pro-government malware targeting online activists in Syria.'
AJAMStream· Wed, Dec 25 2013 08:17:20
Quantum of Surveillance: Familiar Actors and Possible False Flags in Syrian Malware CampaignsQuantum of Surveillance: Familiar Actors and Possible False Flags in Syrian Malware Campaigns
“We’re deeply concerned by the reemergence of pro-government malware targeting online activists in Syria,” the authors write. “The malware campaigns appear to be becoming more and more sophisticated, incorporating greater levels of social engineering.”eff.org
The Citizen Lab report highlights several specific incidents. For example, according to
, visitors to a pro-opposition Facebook page on September 14 were presented with a link to download allegedly accurate information behind the killing of
, a commander in the Free Syrian Army. In reality, the link contained a Trojan virus which could compromised users' data. Several people warned of the potential dangers of downloading the link's contents in the comments section, but hackers used their moderating powers to delete the warnings.
The report also delves into phishing emails, first noticed on October 7, when an NGO administrator received a "Serious video-It shows the malice of al-Assad's military" email with a clip of a man being killed and pushed into a grave. The contents of the email downloaded a Trojan capable of recording key strokes and capturing monitor displays.
EFF Global Policy Analyst Eva Galperin, one of the report's authors, thinks this type of work has become a recognizable pattern.
"Opposition groups continue to be targeted with phishing and malware attacks by pro-Assad hackers, but the attacks are getting curiouser and curiouser," Galperin said. "Up until now, the campaigns have all been very similar to one another. Now we're starting to see attacks that don't fit into these patterns but seem to deliberately implicate pro-Assad hackers."eff.org
The hook for these digital attacks, according to the report, are manipulated to fit "the interests, needs, and fears of the opposition," thus ensuring clicks. Embedded in the middle of a civil war, these actions give pro-government forces access to information, making unsuspecting victims the center of real-life monitoring and raids.
The report ended with a cautionary message about keeping one's computer safe. Citizen Lab security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire shared his thoughts about the consequences:
"As the physical conflict in Syria continues to escalate, the dangers posed by this type of digital targeting become more and more real," Marquis-Boire said. "A compromised computer can put a Syrian user's life in jeopardy. These attacks also produce a serious chilling effect on Syrian social-media, with users unable to discern the difference between relevant news content and malicious downloads."eff.org
The latest findings from Citizen Lab are not the first examples of a digital civil war in Syria. Various internet outages that have taken place across the country have been
to the Assad regime due to the perceived strategic value of their timing. Most recently in May, Syria experienced a near internet blackout,
information from leaving or entering the country.
Syrian authorities have also been
of cutting off internet access in select areas, disrupting opposition communication when regime forces were conducting major operations.
In June of 2011, Assad praised those fighting on the front lines of the internet. In a nod to the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), he stated in a public address:
The army consists of the brothers of every Syrian citizen, and the army always stands for honour and dignity. Young people have an important role to play at this stage, because they have proven themselves to be an active power. There is the electronic army which has been a real army in virtual reality.cpj.org
The SEA gained visibility through its attacks on Western governmental institutions and news organizations. Their primary method has been spamming online platforms with messages, forcing regular users out and pushing organizations to remove the unfavorable content that provoked the attack.
What do you think of Syria's digital civil war? Share your thoughts in the comments below.