After a series of digital attacks on news organizations by the Syrian Electronic Army hacker group, members of hacktivist collective Anonymous may have struck back by swiping SEA data and publishing personal information of purported SEA members. But the SEA, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, denies that it has ever been hacked and says the data revealed does not belong to its members.
The SEA has been causing a ruckus online ever since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Using mostly amateur tactics like phishing emails to deface websites and hijack social media feeds, the group has carried out attacks on Twitter, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, NPR, Thomson Reuters and The Huffington Post's U.K. site, among other targets.
Although the SEA is said to not be officially sanctioned by the Syrian government, the group has described its attacks as revenge for the way Western media outlets have reported the Syrian conflict. The hacker group claims to have more than 10,000 members; interviews suggest there are between four and nine core leaders coordinating the hacking schemes.
International news site Global Post reported Tuesday that the SEA suffered a significant hack in mid-April. A hacker working in Syria, who may or may not be affiliated with Anonymous, recently told tech site Motherboard that he had broken into an SEA server and snagged about 140 email addresses of purported SEA members. These data weren't released until after reports surfaced alleging that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 civilians.
Both the Global Post and security reporter Brian Krebs wrote that a trove of private information about the SEA -- including email addresses, passwords, Twitter handles and email messages of many purported SEA members -- was published on Deep Web sites sometime over Labor Day weekend. The data dump also appears to unmask the identities of a handful of the SEA's top members.
Motherboard reported that a young man named Hatem Deeb was revealed by the hack to be the leader of the group. NBC News recently pointed out that Deeb had been named as a "founding member" of the SEA in a Syrian newspaper article published back at the beginning of the Syrian conflict.
However, an SEA spokesperson, who wished to be called Syrian Eagle, told The Huffington Post Wednesday that the SEA had never been hacked -- by Anonymous or anyone. Syrian Eagle went on to say that the individuals named in the Global Post report were not actually SEA members at all.
"They published pictures/names of unknown persons for us," the spokesman said.
Syrian Eagle went on to add that news sites reporting the identities of alleged SEA leaders were just trying to "get attention" and speculated that the sites must have been ordered "to publish fake/fabricated informations about us."
Speaking to VICE back in May, an experienced and active Anonymous member known as Commander X said, "To be honest, the war has gone on so long now, you could probably fill up a book if you were to detail every engagement between Anonymous and the SEA."
Related on HuffPost:
Jeremy Hammond, known online as "Anarchaos," <a href="http://freejeremy.net/press-release/statement-from-jeremy-regarding-his-plea/" target="_blank">pleaded guilty on May 28 to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act</a> for his part in breaking into the network of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/28/jeremy-hammond-anonymous-hacker-guilty-stratfor_n_3347215.html" target="_blank">geopolitical analysis company Stratfor Global Intelligence Service</a>. Hammond said he participated in the hack on behalf of Anonymous and its subgroup LulzSec. "I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors," he said in <a href="http://freejeremy.net/press-release/statement-from-jeremy-regarding-his-plea/" target="_blank">a statement posted on his website</a>. "I did what I believe is right."
Hector Xavier Monsegur
Hector Monsegur, also known as "Sabu," may be the most hated member of Anonymous. In 2011, after being fingered by the FBI, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204603004577269844134620160.html" target="_blank">he betrayed fellow members of the Anonymous subgroup LulzSec</a> by helping the FBI gather evidence to arrest them. Monsegur is now facing up to 124 years in prison, though <a href="http://rt.com/usa/sabu-informant-anonymous-sentence-491/" target="_blank">his sentencing has been delayed</a> while he continues cooperating with federal agents.
Mercedes Renee Haefer
Mercedes Haefer, also known by "No," is part of 'Paypal 14,' a group of hackers arrested by the FBI in 2011 for <a href="http://www.unlvrebelyell.com/2011/07/25/unlv-student-arrested-by-fbi-for-hacking-in-support-of-wikileaks/" target="_blank">allegedly participating in a cyberattack against PayPal</a>. Haefer and the other members of Paypal 14 have remained in legal limbo for two years now. In May, they began negotiations for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/18/paypal-14-hackers_n_3281768.html" target="_blank">a settlement that could keep them out of prison</a>.
Known in Anonymous circles as "Commander X," <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/12/insider-tells-why-anonymous-might-well-be-the-most-powerful-organization-on-earth/" target="_blank">Christopher Doyan participated in attacks</a> on Sony, PayPal, the Tunisian government and the county website of Santa Cruz, Calif. He was <a href="http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/10/homeless-hacker-christopher-doyon-aka-commander-x-joins-up-with-occupy-movement.php" target="_blank">arrested by federal authorities and threatened with 15 years in prison in September 2011</a> for the attack on the Santa Cruz website. But now he is on the run. Shortly after his arrest, Doyan jumped bail and fled to Canada through <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/12/insider-tells-why-anonymous-might-well-be-the-most-powerful-organization-on-earth/" target="_blank">what he calls</a> an "underground railroad."
Unlike most members of Anonymous, journalist Barrett Brown has never tried to remain...anonymous. This self-proclaimed "spokesman" for the hacktivist collective was <a href="http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2012/09/anonymous-spokesperson-barrett-brown-raided-arrested-in-dallas.html/" target="_blank">arrested in September 2012</a> and indicted on <a href="http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2012/10/feds-indict-self-proclaimed-anonymous-spokesman-on-retaliation-conspiracy-charges.html/" target="_blank">charges of</a> "making an online threat, retaliating against a federal officer and conspiring to release the personal information of a U.S. government employee," The Dallas Morning News reported. Brown was later <a href="http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2012/12/new-federal-indictment-lists-12-more-charges-against-barrett-brown-once-the-self-proclaimed-spokesman-for-anonymous.html/" target="_blank">additionally indicted</a> on charges related to the Stratfor Global Intelligence Service hack.
In January 2011, Anonymous began "<a href="http://anonnews.org/?p=press&a=item&i=118" target="_blank">Operation: Tunisia</a>," a hacktivist effort to assist Tunisian revolutionaries. <a href="http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/anonymous-dicators-existential-dread/" target="_blank">Slim Amamou, an outspoken Tunisian blogger known as "slim404,"</a> was arrested by Tunisian police working for the failing government. Amamou was held in jail for seven days, but when the Tunisian regime was overthrown, he was hailed as a hero and <a href="http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/anonymous-dicators-existential-dread/" target="_blank">made secretary of state for sport and youth</a> in the Tunisian transitional government.
Dmitriy Guzner, known by the alias "Aendy," was fingered by the FBI in 2008 for <a href="http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/05/teen-pleads-guilty-to-scientology-web-attacks/" target="_blank">attacking Church of Scientology computers</a>. He <a href="http://news.softpedia.com/news/Scientology-Attacker-Gets-Prison-Time-127761.shtml" target="_blank">was sentenced to a year in prison and two years of probation,</a> making him the first hacker to ever be arrested in connection with Anonymous.