The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Syria’s pro-Assad hackers infiltrate Human Rights Watch Web site and Twitter feed

Screenshot taken Sunday 4:55 p.m. EST (Washington Post)
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Hackers associated with the Syrian Electronic Army, which supports President Bashar al-Assad, appear to have hacked into the Web site and Twitter feed of Human Rights Watch. The NGO, one of the world's most respected, has conducted a number of searing investigations into the human rights abuses of Assad's regime since fighting began in Syria.

The hackers posted messages announcing their presence and condemning Human Rights Watch (HRW). "All Your reports are FALSE !! Stop lying!!!" one message read. The messages on the HRW site redirect to the homepage of the Syrian Electronic Army.

A screenshot of the hacked HRW page appears at the top of this page. Ironically, it included the tags "Syria" and "Press freedom."

The hackers also appeared to have seized the HRW Twitter account, which has over a half-million followers. This tweet directs readers to the above, hacked page:

The "Stop Lying" page is also visible from the Human Rights Watch homepage, where it appears in the latest news box, along with some HTML code that likely indicates the hackers' first, botched attempt to create the page.

The string of HTML directs to this page, likely a failed attempt to create the "stop lying" page. It also redirects to the Syrian Electronic Army page:

The incident is roughly consistent with past attacks credited to the Syrian Electronic Army, which appear designed to punish those who report damaging information about the Syrian regime. Jared Keller and I wrote about these pro-regime hackers back in 2011, when they were known mostly for spamming Facebook pages and comments fields, and more nefariously for using spearfishing attacks to obtain personal information about Syrian anti-Assad activists online. That information, particularly in the early days of fighting, could have been used to identify or even locate anti-Assad activists within Syria. We also found that the hacker group appears to be composed of both professional hackers and a large but unskilled contingent of genuine regime sympathizers.

If the hackers were only able to access the HRW website and Twitter account, then the damage is likely no more than cosmetic. However, the NGO works with many activists and civilians on the ground in Syria and other countries, whom they are careful to keep anonymous. So far, there's no evidence to suggest that the information has been compromised. I'll update if I learn any more.