Online pirate army fights for downfall of Assad
But they lacked the expertise to produce the relevant software. So Ahmad designed a “Trojan Horse” virus and passed it on to the Falcons, who were then able to get inside Addounia TV, the most popular broadcaster in the country and a staunchly pro-regime outlet.
On February 3rd, 2012 they got into the channel’s text service and, just as the anchor woman went on air to read the news, they placed a text banner below her stating: “Breaking News: Bashar al-Assad has decided to step down for the good of his people.”
In total, Ahmad claims, his group in Aleppo hacked into Addounia 13 times.
In April they managed to penetrate the state broadcaster’s security, interrupting the evening news with their own video package featuring a mocked-up image of Bashar al-Assad sporting a pair of cartoonish black, round spectacles and prominent buck teeth, followed by footage of a regime attack on an ambulance. The voiceover informed viewers: “From the sons of Syria: the regime bombs and burns ambulances. We will expose them and we promise that we will never, ever forget.”
The group also hacked into the official website of Dr Ahmed Hassoun, the regime’s supreme spiritual leader, who had recently issued a fatwa on the demonstrators. They replaced flash images of the preacher smiling beatifically alongside excerpts from the Koran with red text on a black border which read simply: “This is the site of Syria’s Number One Liar. The Syrian people spit on you!”
For their part, the regime’s own electronic army also got busy, hacking into the Twitter feed of Al-Arabiya, one of the leading satellite news channels in the Middle East, and posting news that Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the prime minister of Qatar and an open supporter of the rebels, had been relieved of his position by the country’s heir apparent.
The so-called E-Army went on to hack the web pages of Reuters news agency and of Harvard University, as well as placing false reports of an assassination attempt against the Qatari premier on Al Jazeera’s text news service. They even hacked 23 UK government and business websites “because of the bad stand of the British government on Syria”.
As the Free Syrian Army entered Aleppo, Ahmad felt that this was the moment for him to get out. Fearful of getting caught in the crossfire, in August he crossed over the Turkish border.
Now alone, he lives out of a suitcase from hotel room to hotel room and had been keeping a low profile until he logged onto the E-Army’s website and found the challenge too much to bear.
“I’ve got my pirate software at the ready,” he said, as he sat back down at his computer. But after an unsuccessful all-night attempt to break through the site’s sophisticated security, Ahmad realised that one man cannot take on an army and sent an email to a group of Saudi hackers requesting their support. The response came back immediately: “We’re ready when you are, Harvester!”