Hackers who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have claimed yet another target in their virtual war for Syria's hearts and minds: the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Qatar Foundation, which began posting unusual messages around 2:00 a.m. on Friday.
So what, exactly, does the Syrian Electronic Army hope to achieve?
Some believe the answer may be something more insidious than the group's stated purpose of "show[ing] the world the truth about the 'Syria Revolution.'"
Hacks like this are good for publicity -- the SEA even released a dramatically soundtracked video of the hack -- but they don't have much staying power. In the case of the Qatar Foundation, the offending tweets had been deleted within six hours.
Earlier today, Qatar Foundation’s social media channels were compromised. (1/4)— Qatar Foundation (@QF) March 1, 2013
We have now addressed the issue and, as a precaution, taken related accounts offline. (2/4)— Qatar Foundation (@QF) March 1, 2013
They will be fully operational again in the near future. (3/4)— Qatar Foundation (@QF) March 1, 2013
In the meantime, we thank our online community for their patience and support. (4/4)— Qatar Foundation (@QF) March 1, 2013
The Post's James Ball has suggested that pro-government hackers have actually begun acting as a sort of quasi-intelligence unit, "using the Internet to uncover members of the opposition" by advertising fake Facebook and Skype software that is embedded with spyware.
One malicious link, circulated on Syrian Twitter last year, purported to lead to a "fascinating video clip showing an attack on Syrian regime." It actually coaxed Facebook users to give up their usernames and passwords, reports The Information Warfare Monitor.
It's unclear what might become of those names afterward. As Jared Keller detailed in a lengthy Atlantic examination of the group last August, the SEA has denied any formal affiliation with the Syrian regime -- though there are vague, circumstantial hints that could suggest otherwise. Assad has a background in computing and once explicitly referenced his "electronic army." And the group's Web site was registered by the Syrian Computer Society, which Assad once ran.
In either case, this latest Twitter hack is a reminder that the Internet has opened many new fronts for battle.