The Syrian Electronic Army has more than passing ties to Assad. Although the Syrian leader trained in Britain as an eye doctor, in the 1990s he headed Syria's Computer Society -- pushing for better computer education for the country's children -- before succeeding his father as president of the country in 2000. Interestingly, the Syrian Electronic Army's first domain name "was registered by the Syrian Computer Society," Helmi Noman, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at Toronto University, told CNN.
In addition, the domain is "hosted on the network of the Syrian government, which is interesting because it's the first time we've seen a group with questionable activities being hosted on a national computer network," he said, though he also noted that it's not proof that the hackers are government-funded.
A recent Guardian report, however, said the Syrian Electronic Army is bankrolled by Assad's billionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf, and that the group recently relocated from Syria to Dubai. "Makhlouf pays the pro-regime hackers for their activities, and they typically earn $500-$1,000 for a successful attack," according to the Guardian. "They also get free accommodation and food. Sometimes Syrian government officials tell the SEA which western sites to hack; on other occasions the SEA selects its own targets."
In response to that report, the Syrian Electronic Army seized more than 11 Guardian Twitter feeds, using them to decry the British paper's "lies and slander about Syria."
A pro-Assad media outlet likewise dismissed the paper's reporting. "Dubai is located in the United Arab Emirates, some 3,000 kilometers away from Damascus, but sitting in London thinking how to amuse the readers with fancy tales, our best guess is the authors, especially Mr. Harding, thought Dubai is somewhere in Syria, or Damascus is somewhere near Dubai."
Photograph courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks .