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Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Financial Times
Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Financial Times

By Jennifer LeClaire
May 17, 2013 11:17AM

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"Some old tricks are good ones, and until we actually educate users to think before they click, these attacks will continue to be successful," said security analyst Ken Pickering. "There are vast architectural changes we could make to the Internet to make this happen, or we could all follow one simple policy: Don't enter your password on a link you followed from e-mail."
 


The Financial Times is the latest victim of the Syrian Electronic Army, a "hacktivist" group that supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.K.-based newspaper reported the attack followed a phishing attack on the company's e-mail accounts.

Twelve posts entitled "Hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army" appeared on the FT's tech blog between 12:38 p.m. and 12:42 p.m. London time on Friday, with the company's Twitter accounts also disrupted, the Financial Times said.

"We have now locked those accounts and are grateful for Twitter's help on this," said Robert Shrimsley, the managing editor of FT.com. "Unfortunately this is an increasingly common issue for major news organizations."

No New Tricks

Ken Pickering, development manager for security intelligence at CORE Security, said the Syrian Electronic Army's methods are straightforward: They rely on a phishing e-mail with a link to a spoofed Web page that in some cases looks like Google Apps, and is able to yank an employee's credentials fairly easily.

"However, some old tricks are good ones, and until we actually educate users to think before they click, these attacks will continue to be successful," Pickering told us. "There are vast architectural changes we could make to the Internet to make this happen, or we could all follow one simple policy: Don't enter your password on a link you followed from e-mail. If you get a notification from somewhere, just go to the site itself via your browser. It will cost you an extra 10 seconds of typing, but I promise it's worthwhile."

People tend to reuse passwords, Pickering said, so tactics like this are easy and effective. Once hackers have access to e-mail, he said, injecting malware into a network by using internal e-mails as a carrier is exceptionally effective. And it only takes one weak link to begin a chain of several attacks.

"I wish I could say the SEA was doing something deeply complicated, but the real story is they keep burning these companies with tactics that are well established and well known," Pickering said. "That's why we see a significant amount of users using our products for phishing research, and to help train employees to not click on everything that enters their inbox. It's still a real issue out there."

A String of Hack Attacks

Last month, the Syrian Electronic Army hacked The Guardian, another U.K.-based newspaper. The hackers targeted The Guardian's Twitter account.

Hacks of high-profile news organizations' Twitter accounts have become so common that the micro-blogging site has sent a memo to them that warns it expects still more, and outlines several steps the organizations should take to deter the hacks.

"These incidents appear to be spear phishing attacks that target your corporate e-mail," the memo says. It lists several steps that should be taken immediately, along with others for the longer term.

"Change your Twitter account passwords," is one of the immediate steps the memo urges. "Never send passwords via e-mail, even internally. Ensure that passwords are strong -- at least 20 characters long. Use either randomly-generated passwords (like 'LauH6maicaza1Neez3zi') or a random string of words (like 'hewn cloths titles yachts refine')."

Among the longer-term changes Twitter urges for news organizations is to dedicate a single computer solely for posting tweets.

"Don't use this computer to read e-mail or surf the Web, to reduce the chances of malware infection," the memo says.

Twitter is working on beefing up its own security with a two-step authentication system for logging in, but has not yet implemented the system.
 

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