Harvard University's homepage was hacked on Monday morning, and visitors to the site were greeted with the garbled message "SyRiAn ELeCTronic ArMy WeRe HeRE," reports BBC News. The statement was accompanied by a photograph of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, as well as an anti-American screed.
"Do you support the war on Syria?" the message read in part, according to the BBC. "If you are you, as well as the following Syria's population of 23 million people. This means 23 million mobile bomb. Imagine what we could do."
A Harvard spokesman said:
"The university's homepage was compromised by an outside party this morning. We took down the site for several hours in order to restore it. The attack appears to have been the work of a sophisticated individual or group."
Those looking for the culprits will likely eye the Syrian Electronic Army, a prolific hacking group that NPR reports "appears to be part of a coordinated campaign by the embattled government" of Syria, which has been rocked by violence during the Arab Spring as the Assad regime cracks down on anti-government protestors. Since its inception, the hacking group has gained steam at a rapid clip, and The Atlantic reports that "they've led by far the most sophisticated and highly visible online pro-regime effort of the 2011 Arab uprisings."
The pro-Assad group, which began operations in April, has hacked into celebrity, government, and university websites in order to to spread its counter-revolutionary message. It is competing against a large number of anti-Assad hackers, who have inflitrated Syria's government websites in recent months. Al Jazeera reports that Syria's newest battle "is taking place not on the streets, but in the homes of online activists determined to silence the opposing side."
The Syrian Electronic Army reportedly has been aided by Iran, which encouraged Syria to counteract its enemies' online activities instead of closing off the country to information altogether. The group is also notable, according to The Atlantic, for its widespread reach -- it doesn't mind attacking non-Syrian targets -- and for the fact that it "appears to consist of a number of normal civilians, rather than merely professional hackers or robots made to mimic real people." It remains unclear how closely these civilians are linked to the Assad regime, though the president may have referenced them in a June speech.
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more