The hackers Syrian Electronic Army Saturday seized control of multiple CBS Twitter accounts, posting messages that redirected to malicious websites that launched drive-by attacks at browsers. Twitter responded by suspending the affected accounts and returning them to their rightful operators. Then it suspended the hacking group's own Twitter feed.
In response, the Syrian Electronic Army registered a new Twitter account at "@Official_SEA," which Twitter subsequently froze. Cue @Official_SEA3, which Twitter duly shut down, and so on.
By Sunday, the Syrian Electronic Army -- a self-described "virtual army" apparently sympathetic to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad -- had registered "@Official_SEA6." As of Tuesday, that account remained active, and the group even went as far as to trumpet the new name in a home-cooked YouTube video.
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"But you have to wonder how long before that one is also shut down by Twitter's security team," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, in a blog post.
On Monday, a tweet from that account linked to a picture purporting to be a data dump (aka dox) that included the email address, and phone and fax numbers, for Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, president of the worldwide soccer governing body FIFA. The same day, the Syrian Electronic Army also claimed to have taken over the Twitter accounts of both Blatter (@SeppBlatter) and the World Cup (@FifaWorldCup). Tweets from those accounts accused Blatter of corruption and suggested that bribery by officials in Qatar led to the country winning the hosting slot for the 2022 World Cup.
By Tuesday morning, however, both of those accounts had been expunged of the Syrian Electronic Army messages, and appeared to be back in the hands of their rightful operators.
The FIFA account takeovers followed the group's Saturday seizure of the Twitter accounts of both 60 Minutes and the Denver CBS affiliate. "By attacking Syria using terrorists the US regime hopes to bring a world government," read one tweet from the 60 Minutes account. Since the Syrian civil war began two years ago, the United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have died, although critics call that an underestimate.
Some of the tweets distributed from the CBS accounts included links to websites that attempted to launch drive-by exploits of browsers.
CBS officials confirmed the account takeovers Saturday and said the broadcaster was working with Twitter to "resolve the issue," reported The Independent newspaper in Britain.
The Syrian Electronic Army's Twitter account takeovers have largely focused on news targets. Earlier this month, the group claimed credit for taking over the National Public Radio Twitter feed. That followed a March takeover of multiple BBC Twitter accounts, including the weather feed, and posting reports such as "Saudi weather station down due to head-on collision with camel," as well as offensive rants, including some of an anti-Semitic nature. Last year, the group seized control of a Reuters Twitter account, using it to broadcast messages such as, "White house spokesperson says financial and technical support given to #AlQaeda operatives in #Syria."
In the wake of numerous high-profile Twitter account takeovers, security experts continue to urge Twitter users to use complex, unique passwords for the social media site. But they've also called on Twitter to begin offering two-factor authentication for account access, as Apple and Microsoft have recently done, following in the footsteps of Google and Dropbox.
Twitter does appear to be moving in the two-factor authentication direction -- which would block most types of account takeovers -- albeit at its own pace. Earlier this year, notably, the company posted a job advertisement seeking an engineer with expertise in "multifactor authentication and fraudulent login detection."