A Syrian rebel group is claiming responsibility for knocking that country's Internet access down for seven hours yesterday, in the latest of what has been a series of back and forth cyber attacks.
A hacker group named the European Cyber Army claimed responsibility on Twitter for the outage. Saying it was in retaliation for similar attacks by another web group called the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) on western web targets. The Syrian government said it was due to a broken fiber optic cable outside Damascus.
"As you may or may not have noticed, Syria was wiped off the face of the Internet," the group said. "SEA is a grave threat... A threat that must be neutralised before it spreads like a disease."
Yesterday's Internet blackout is a prime example.
The SEA is a group of hackers aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although it is not officially recognized by the state, that has in the past attacked western targets. These include the U.S. Central Command, which controls American military actions in the Middle East, just last week. The SEA reportedly placed its logo on part of the CENTCOM site and said it had retrieved secrets that it would expose. This attack was in response to news that the U.S. was considering a cyber attack on Syria.
Other targets have included Forbes Magazine and The Washington Post.
The U.S. has effectively used web attacks against other countries. In 2009 it placed the Stuxnet virus in an Iranian system effectively shutting down that country's nuclear program. This attack has pushed the Iranians to create their own group of Internet special forces.
"The U.S., or Israel, or the Europeans, or all of them together, started war against Iran. Iran decided to have ... to establish a cyber-army, and today, after four or five years, Iran has one of the most powerful cyber-armies in the world," said Hossein Moussavian, a research scholar at Princeton and a former diplomat who served on Iran's nuclear negotiations team.
Meanwhile, the state-owned Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said the problem was caused by something quite a bit more pedestrian, a broken fiber optic cable outside of Damascus. Considering the level of combat taking place in the country, it is certainly possible that this was the cause.
"Earlier, Regional and international communications and Internet network were cut off in all the provinces due to a breakdown in the optical fiber cable in Damascus Countryside, Director of the Syrian Communications Company Bakr Bakr," SANA reported.
The web outage has to be taken in context with the rest of Syria's problems. That nation's three-year-long civil war has claimed well over 100,000 lives and created millions of refugees. However, while there is bloody fighting in the streets, there is another war being fought online.