Since media are strictly controlled by the Syrian government, the internet has played a key role in allowing opposition activists share images of alleged atrocities carried out by security forces. You can argue that a high-stakes war of information is being waged in Syrian cyberspace, and in one battle at least the hacking group Anonymous is claiming victory.
The purported emails of Syrian officials were released by the group on Sunday. (You can read and watch more about that here.) According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the documents were easy for Anonymous to access: they were protected only by the simple password "1-2-3-4-5".
Before Bashar al-Assad was Syria's president he headed the Syrian Computer Society and pushed the country's youth to become more web-savvy. While anti-government activists seeking to oust him are using the internet as a weapon against him, he's also using that experience to his advantage.
The "Syrian Electronic Army" is said to be a group of hackers built around the Syrian computer club that enjoyed the president's patronage. According to media reports, they attacked the Harvard University website last September. Within the last month, the group has also targeted broadcaster Al Jazeera.
The Syrian Electronic Army's enemy – anti-government cyber activists – are not to be underestimated though. They are finding ways around government firewalls to communicate via Skype, email and chat sites. The U.S. State Department has even funded an online encryption system to support uncensored internet access in Syria. It is called Psiphon. The company's CEO told CNN the software had been "aggressively" introduced to Syria in November.
"What we're doing is not much different to what the airwaves provided during the Cold War to provide those citizens living behind the Iron Curtain with an ability to get information which otherwise they were not getting from their state," said Rafal Rohozinski, CEO of two companies involved in developing Psiphon.
"Whereas shortwave radio during the Cold War was very unidirectional ... with the Internet these technologies are by definition bidirectional, meaning that it gives an opportunity for citizens within these states to also communicate amongst themselves and with the outside world."
But no matter the advantages offered by online social networking, demonstrators continue to risk life and limb protesting on Syria's streets.