Syrian Drama and the Impact on Cyberspace

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

The situation in Syria has aroused much concern in the world because it could trigger, in a highly unstable region, a conflict that many have wanted to avoid.

The world, is witnessing a fierce crackdown led by President Bashar al-Assad - a massacre - against an opposition that wants the removal of what is considered a dictatorial regime which granted the permission to kill with impunity.

The order was executed without hesitation, and hundreds of protesters were killed in the city of Homs, and yesterday At Homs, and the bombing started again. Images and videos published on the web and also spread by AFP demonstrates that they are bombing civilians.

Immediate condemnation from the international community arose, with the U.S. in the lead, who expressed profound disagreement with the government of Damascus, and presented a resolution to the UN Security Council. Disconcerting was immediate response of Russia and China that have vetoed the resolution.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has harshly protested against those who "prevent the world to condemn the violence" and has single out against Moscow, which "could not be a constructive dialogue."

There is a real risk that Syria is moving into a civil war.

For which reasons did Russia and China opposed the UN resolution?

Money is the main motivation say many experts. Recall that in December Russia agreed to sell 36 Yakovlev-130 trainer-fighter airplanes to the Syrian government in a $550 million contract. The sale is not the only one, as it has been documented that a continuous flow of weapons goes from Russia to Syria.

Another important reason is the consolidation of an axis that opposes to Western policy in the Middle East. Syria is an important bulwark in this sense, a strategic reference that China and Russia do not want to lose.

Amid these tragic events it is appropriate to ask what are the consequences in cyberspace, and what balances have been put into question in this scenario.

We are learning that a cyber threat is an offensive just like a military attack, and in a context like the one we are observing, it would be wrong not to consider further a possible source of attacks.

Cyberspace and the real world are closely linked by an unbreakable but thin thread which needs to be analyzed carefully to understand each other's evolution.

When the protest was started in Syria, a hacker based out of Saudi Arabia named Salman Al Anzi announced he had hacked the private email account of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, which contained some disturbing revelations. 

The Hacker threatened to reveal the content of emails and also other information retrieved from other government account. According to Al Madina newspaper , the hacker has asked Bashar Al Assad to stop the massacre immediately and give up power.

In those emails could be documented electoral fraud and evidence he received support from the Iranian government. The alliance between Syria and Iran is not a mystery and it has had significant impact in Middle East politics. 

Cooperation between Syria and India increased after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, their mutual enemy. But the the U.S. military victory also initially raised fears that either Iran or Syria might be the next target in the future U.S. administration.

The United States and Israel have always been bitter enemies of the two governments, and the recent cyber esclation in Middle East is only the latest event. Syria and Iran are the two parties most responsible for spoiling peace efforts between the Arabs and Israel.

The response to the Soviet resistance to proposed UN sanctions against Damascus came as Syrian hackers conducted several operations against central government infrastructures. Russia is also responsible for selling weapons to the Syrian government, which has been accused of killing thousands of civilians.

Let's remember that during the Arab Spring in Syria, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), an organization that operates with at least tacit support of the government, claimed responsibility for several attacks against those websites that it contends spread news that was hostile to the Syrian regime.

SEA disseminated denial of service (DoS) software designed to target media websites including those of Al Jazeera, BBC News, Syrian satellite broadcaster Orient TV, and Dubai-based al-Arabia TV.

Syria has always held in high regard the potential of new media technologies and the failure to manage risks, and the proof is that in Syria on June 3 had used an internet "kill switch" to shut down the country’s Internet network. The country’s 3G, DSL and dial-up were disconnected the same day as massive protests erupted.

In addition to the usual skirmishes between hackers, not to be overlooked are the operations of groups of hacktivists which are organizing on the web to retaliate against governments guilty of mass murder and commit genocide.

We consider that similar movements may have a genesis that is spontaneous, but may also be instigated and supported by agencies wishing to address the dreaded rogue states. Anonymous groups may stand as political forces against nations such as Russia and China, and with what results?

Cyberspace is comparable to a stormy sea in which you navigate by sight and where the scenarios are changing rapidly in an unpredictable way by the presence of uncontrolled entities such as groups of hackers and cyber hacktivists, in addition to cyber armies set up by the main world powers.

Other warning signals come from social media, particularly from social networks who are being attacked by opponents of the regime, but probably also from militants near Damascus.

It has been observed that a large percentage of the comments in Arabic, Russian and English that expressed gratitude to Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, such as one from user Hamoud Youssef: "A heartfelt thank you to Russia… Thank you for the veto."

The comments seem to be posted by syrian users, but the high number of identical entries suggests that an automated tool has been used for the purpose. Once again social network monitoring has become an integral part of a cyber strategy used by governments to control the overall sentiment with targeted campaigns of misinformation.

The enemy of my enemy .. is my friend.

Update: After the publication of the post, as good oracle, I have read about LulzSec hacks were Syrian security, accounts dumps http://pastebin.com/uaYDfCz0

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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