Anonymous Attacks Syrian Electronic Army: Declaration Of War, Or For The Lulz?

The Internet hactivist collective known as Anonymous has reportedly fired the first shots in what could ultimately become the first official hacker war, and I only wish I was kidding.

The Syrian Electronic Army, a collective of Middle Eastern hackers who swear fealty to the regime of Syria President Bashar Assad, have been making a name for themselves lately by taking down the websites of major news organizations. In response, Anonymous may have doxed members of the group, though the SEA denies that they were ever hacked and that the data revealed doesn’t belong to their members.

The SEA has been active since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. They have successfully defaced, shut down or hijacked The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, NPR, Thomson Reuters and The Huffington Post’s U.K. site.

They tend to target Western news publications that cover the Syrian conflict.

Mid-April, the group suffered a massive hack from a possible member of Anonymous. Over Labor Day weekend, tons of information was published online including email addresses, passwords, Twitter handles and email messages, all from alleged members of the Syrian Electronic Army.

The hack also doxed a young man named Hatem Deeb, who is possibly the ringleader and founder of the SEA. He was credited as such in a Syrian newspaper article published back in 2011.

But a member of the SEA told The Huffington Post that none of the published information is theirs. “They published pictures/names of unknown persons for us,” a member named “Syrian Eagle” said.

Birds of a Feather?

At face value, Anonymous and the Syrian Electronic Army don’t look all that different. Both groups apparently enjoy a loose membership of dedicated and talented hackers looking to upset the apple cart through online attacks.

The big difference is motive. While Anonymous is largely apolitical, they tend to act on two primary motives: Justice, and self-amusement. The Syrian Electronic Army, meanwhile, are pro-government. They have a very explicit agenda, according to one member who spoke to Daily Dot recently.

“We are just Syrian youths who want to defend their country against the media campaign that is full of lies and fabricated news reports,” the SEA member said.

The SEA also observes rank, with between four and nine core leaders organizing hacks among a reported 10,000 members. Anonymous doesn’t seem to have any real organization (though that’s sort of the philosophical point), save for a handful of very powerful information dissemination blogs and social media accounts.

Anonymous v. SEA

Whether these two hacker groups are really at war with each other depends on who you ask. “Syrian Eagle” didn’t mention Anonymous when responding to the SEA hack, but criticized websites that published the data of wanting to “get attention,” even theorizing that those sites were ordered “to publish fake/fabricated informations about us.”

Cool story, bro.

Meanwhile, a highly active Anonymous member dubbed “Commander X” told VICE back in May that the conflict with the SEA has been going on for some time.

“To be honest, the war has gone on so long now, you could probably fill up a book if you were to detail every engagement between Anonymous and the SEA,” X said.

The only question no one is asking is why Anonymous and the Syrian Electronic Army are apparently at war. For great justice, or for the lulz?

Update: After publishing, I was contacted by a member of Anonymous on Twitter. “Allow me to assure you,” @blackplans wrote, “it is for great justice.”

[Image: WIkimedia Commons]