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As violence continues unchecked in Syria, so does cyber warfare

April 26, 2012 | 12:25 pm

The Internet has become another battleground in Syria, with rebels and government loyalists hacking into websites to undercut one another with online propaganda and misinformation.

Backers of President Bashar Assad have formed the Syrian Electronic Army, which recently hacked the Twitter and Facebook accounts of a Saudi Arabian news channel, Al Arabiya, to spread fake news of a coup and a deadly explosion in Qatar, a nation that has called for arming the Syrian rebels.

One of the Al Arabiya channels was repeatedly jammed when it tried to air news about allegedly leaked emails between Assad and his wife, the network said. And in late March, its Facebook page was hacked for a few hours with visitors seeing a lengthy statement criticizing the channel's its coverage of Syria.

On Thursday, loyalists reportedly went after the professional networking website LinkedIn, hacking into its blog to spread their message.

“We are a group of Syrian youth who wanted to show the truth and therefore we used this website which was used to spread lies about Syria," the hackers wrote, according to the Irish technology site Silicon Republic, which reported that visitors to the blog were temporarily redirected to a site backing Assad.

A Twitter account labeled as belonging to a member of the "Syrian Electronic Army" also said LinkedIn had been hacked, linking to a mirror image of what users were reportedly redirected to earlier.

It was unclear Thursday how LinkedIn, where members exchange job information and tips, had upset the Syrian hackers.The company declined to answer questions about the reported attack.

"Our blog is temporarily down. We are investigating the situation and working quickly to get the site back up," it said in a statement. A spokeswoman said the company had no further comment.

Opposition activists have attacked a Syrian television station supportive of the goverment, hacking into its Facebook page to mock Assad. And in February, Syrian state television reportedly warned viewers that the text messaging service for the same station, Addounia, had been infiltrated.

In the most famous cyber attack of the 13-month conflict, rebels intercepted emails between Assad and his wife, reportedly after a government worker leaked the passwords. The emails, published in the Guardian, shed light on the Assads' thinking as the uprising raged on.

While the virtual sparring continues, the real violence in Syria continues to claim lives despite a peace plan that called for a cease-fire. More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict, including civilians, government forces and opposition fighters.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles and Rima Marrouch in Beirut