Operating with at least tacit support from the regime, the Syrian Electronic Army uses DDoS attacks, phishing scams, and other tricks to fight opposition activists where they're strongest -- online
A Syrian Internet user checks Facebook / AP
As President Bashar al-Assad dispatches tanks against peaceful protesters across Syria, pro-regime forces are launching a parallel effort against the uprising on a very different front: the Internet. A collective of pro-Assad hackers and online activists, calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army, appears to be targeting dissidents within Syria as well as sympathizers without. Though the nature of the group's connection to the regime remains unclear, their tactics -- the most sophisticated response to online activism of the Arab Spring -- reveal the skill of Assad's forces and their determination to defeat the protest movement that toppled fellow dictators in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.
The Syrian Electronic Army has aggressively engaged in a wide range of online activities to punish perceived opponents and to force the online narrative in favor of the Assad regime. Over the past few months, their primary means of attack has been to overload the social networking profiles of government institutions and Western media outlets, flooding the Facebook pages of ABC News, the Telegraph, Oprah Winfrey, and the U.S. Department of Treasury with pro-Assad messages. Their primary method is distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: by jamming an online portal with messages, the group keeps regular visitors out and forces institutions to remove content unfavorable to the Syrian regime. This screenshot shows a "virtual demonstration" on President Barack Obama's Facebook page: