US assault on Syria would mean more cyber attacks
Syrian Electronic Army has disrupted US web outlets and threatens worse if Washington bombs Damascus
An activist at Whitehall near the junction with Downing Street yesterday during an event organised by the Stop the War Coalition to protest against potential UK involvement in an attack on Syria. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
The risk is heightened by Syria’s alliance with Iran, which has built up its cyber capability in the past three years, and already gives the country technical and other support. If Iran stood with Syria in any fray with the US, that would significantly increase the cyber threat, security experts said.
Organised cyber attacks have already been carried out by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a hacking group loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. It has disrupted the websites of US media and internet companies and is now threatening to step up such hacking if Washington bombs Damascus.
“It’s likely that the Syrian Electronic Army does something in response, perhaps with some assistance from Iranian-related groups,” said former White House cybersecurity and counter terror adviser Richard Clarke.
Little is known about the hackers behind the SEA, and there is no evidence the group is capable of destructive attacks on critical infrastructure.
Thus far, the SEA’s most disruptive act was in April, when it hacked into the Twitter account of the Associated Press and sent fictional tweets about explosions at the White House. The false messages sent the stock market into a downward spiral that, for a short time, erased more than $100 billion in value.
In an email to Reuters yesterday, the SEA said if the US military moves against Syria “our targets will be different”.
“Everything will be possible if the US begins hostile military actions against Syria,” the group said in the note.
President Barack Obama vowed yesterday that the Syrian government would face “international consequences” for last week’s deadly chemical attack in Syria, but he made clear that any military action would be limited.
Asked about the threat of cyber retaliation, US Department of Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said the government “is closely following the situation and actively collaborates and shares information with public and private sector partners every day”.
A US Department of Defense spokesman said he could not discuss specific threats, while another source at the Pentagon said no unusual activity had been detected by late yesterday.
Cyber experts have said Iran increased its cyber capabilities after the US used the Stuxnet virus to attack Tehran’s nuclear programme.
US intelligence officials have blamed hackers sponsored by Iran for a series of so-called distributed-denial-of-service attacks against many US banking sites. In DDoS attacks, thousands of computers try to contact a target website at the same time, overwhelming it and rendering it inaccessible.