February 9th, 2012
10:59 PM ET

Syria's Cyberwar

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.

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Filed under: Arab Unrest • General • Social networking • Technology
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Inini

    The people of Syria should be assisted by the international community....

    February 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  2. TL

    It would be good if there were shortwave broadcasts going into to Syria too. They are harder to block than internet, and the people listening cannot be as easily detected by the government monitors.

    February 20, 2012 at 4:54 am | Reply
  3. Dado

    Anonymous,I allowed your mmnoect even though I typically refrain from posting anonymous mmnoects from antisemites claiming to hate Zionists. It stands as an example of irrationality. Since the vast majority of Jews identify as Zionists (or at the very least support the existence of the State of Israel), your mmnoect makes very little sense. Israel, the Jewish (or Zionist) country, is surrounded by hostile neighbors who regularly wage war against its civilian population. Yet the Jews in the Middle East have every right to be there. The majority of Jews in Israel are refugees from Middle Eastern territories and have received scant attention from the international community despite being forced out of their homes. They were forced out of their native lands due to discriminatory, anti-Jewish laws. Jews used to number at around a million in modern-day Muslim countries. Today, there are a few thousand (mostly in Morocco and Iran). Conversely, Arabs, who are ethnic Jordanians and Egyptians, make up nearly 20 percent of the Israeli population and are afforded the same rights as other citizens despite that many are hostile to the Israeli state. An Arab myth is that Israelis (or "Zionists") seek to kill or maim your children or women. Israeli military and police seek to avoid civilian casualties by risking their own lives despite that Palestinian terrorists use their own children as human shields. In reality, there is no reason for Israelis to put their own lives at risk in such a fashion and yet they do. Consider that one of the newfound heroes of the Arab world, Samir Kuntar, massacred an Israeli toddler by bashing in her brains after he murdered her father in front of her. That should point out to any rational-minded person exactly what kind of despicable hatred is accepted, and glorified, in today's Arab world.Good day.Reut R. Cohen

    March 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply

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