The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a hacking group supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has claimed responsibility for breaking into several news sites and social media accounts, has made Skype it's latest target, reportedly taking over their Twitter account, Facebook page, and blog.
The hackers left the message "stop spying!" on Skype's blog, and accused the company's owner, Microsoft, of monitoring user accounts and selling them to "governments." Skype has deleted the tweet, Facebook and blog posts, issuing this statement on Twitter:
You may have noticed our social media properties were targeted today. No user info was compromised. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.— Skype (@Skype) January 2, 2014
Evidence of the attack remains on the SEA's own Twitter account, however:
Don't use Microsoft emails(hotmail,outlook),They are monitoring your accounts and selling the data to the governments.http://t.co/1I1nZx30SV— SyrianElectronicArmy (@Official_SEA16) January 1, 2014
The hackers also tweeted out Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's contact information with the message "You can thank Microsoft for monitoring your accounts/emails using this details."
The SEA appears to be referring to allegations, prompted by information from National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden, that Skype helped the NSA gather information on its users. The Guardian wrote months ago that Microsoft cooperated with the NSA's dragnet Prism surveillance program:
The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'," it says.
The SEA's focus on the U.S. spying scandal is an unusual change in message. Up until now, the hackers have used their skills to deliver messages in support of the Syrian president, or simply to compromise news organizations — like the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera and others — they say portray Assad in an unfairly negative light.
In their biggest coup in April, the SEA hacked into the Associated Press's Twitter account and wrote that the White House was under attacked, sending a minor panic through the stock market. In May the group targeted The Onion, writing on the humor paper's Twitter account that “UN retracts report of Syrian chemical weapon use: Lab tests confirm it is Jihadi body odor.” An SEA-affiliated hacker told the the New York Times that the hack was done in retaliation to a parody Onion article titled “Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People,” supposedly penned by Assad. In August, the group disabled the New York Times website and in September, they broke into the U.S. Marine Corps' website and left the following note:
Marines, please take a look at what your comrades think about Obama’s alliance with al-Qaida against Syria. Your officer in charge probably has no qualms about sending you to die against soldiers just like you, fighting a vile common enemy. The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy.
More recently, the SEA was working to bolster accusations that Syrian rebels were responsible for a chemical attack that killed more than 1,000 people and is widely believed to have been carried out by Assad's forces.
The shift towards trolling the U.S. government could just be another way to undermine Washington which, though not taking a full-throated stance against Assad, has essentially blamed the Syrian government for last year's massive chemical attack. It is also possible that the SEA is less interested in protecting Assad now that global leaders have largely taken the heat off of the controversial president following his agreement to rid Syria of it's chemical weapons. Or, maybe, the SEA just wanted to up its social media game. The group's ICYMI tweet on the Skype hack got twice as many retweets as a December 31 tweet that said, "May #Syria be victorious in 2014, we shall fight on and defend her from terrorism and those behind it." Since the pro-Assad propaganda hasn't won the war, maybe now they're just in it for the lulz.