Troubles with SEA
Tuesday after class, I sat down to do my daily perusal of the New York Times on my computer. To my dismay, the so-called “Syrian Electronic Army,” (henceforth SEA) a hacker organization that ostensibly supports the embattled President Bashar Al-Assad, had earlier that day chosen to launch their latest attack against my news source of choice. The attack was, in this case, a Domain Name System (DNS) hijacking, which, without getting too technical, essentially directs a computer to a website controlled by the SEA. The technique itself is rather crude, involving stealing or otherwise obtaining the administrative credentials for a DNS registrar. This attack, while not particularly sophisticated, denied access not only to the New York Times website but also to Twitter for a long period of time.
The SEA’s attacks are a demonstration of the dangers of the democratization of communication on the Internet. While I personally would like to believe that communication over the Internet is a basic human right, the Internet’s inherent openness, the ability to stay anonymous while using it (at least as long as the National Security Agency isn’t involved) and its technical nature allow certain groups—in this case, probably a group of angsty teens with a little technical know-how and a misguided perception of grandiose self-importance—to temporarily cut public access to one of the most important online news sources in the country, which was specifically targeted for “opposing the Assad regime.”
The SEA is not the only organization that has actively defaced online media outlets. Several years ago, a semi-anarchist organization known as Anonymous and its hacker subgroup LulzSec rose to prominence through its attacks against both the United States government and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. While these attacks did result in a great deal of news coverage, LulzSec garnered somewhat of a Robin Hood persona due to its relative alignment with liberal ideologies.
These attacks demonstrate the ability of a technically competent and ideologically cohesive organization to manipulate a conversation by removing opposing media. This raises the question of the importance of Internet security even beyond its traditional realm of user security and customer protection. If small disorganized groups such as the SEA and LulzSec are able to manipulate a conversation by strategically removing media outlets that oppose their viewpoints, a much-better-organized and technically competent organization could pose a much greater threat to public discourse. As an American, I truly believe that the freedom of the press is one of the most distinguishing and sacred rights afforded to us. Unfortunately, with the invention of the Internet, such freedoms require more protection, both technical and legal, than ever before.