Archive for September, 2011

Official Syrian sites hacked

Several government websites hacked by Anonymous, as crackdown on protests in Homs and elsewhere continues.

The official websites of seven major Syrian cities and several government departments have been hacked, as the country’s government continues an extensive crackdown on anti-government protesters in the province of Homs and elsewhere.

A London-based rights group reported the deaths of four people in the crackdown on Sunday. The websites for the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus, Tartous, Deir Ezzor and Palmyra were hacked by members of the Anonymous Operation Syria group on Sunday, with the home pages replaced by an interactive map of Syria showing data on those killed in the government’s crackdown.

The map showed the names, ages and dates of death of those killed since the uprising began in March, putting the death toll at 2,316.

The websites have since been reset by their administrators, with each now only displaying a generic page.

Several other websites, including those of the ministry of transportation and the department of antiquities and museums, were also hacked. The hacked versions of the webpages included a link to a site advising activists within Syria on how to maintain anonymity on the internet in order to evade government tracking.

Homs crackdown

Meanwhile, the Syrian government’s crackdown on the province of Homs continued on Sunday, with a major deployment of troops there. Security forces were also deployed to the Douma suburb of Damascus, activists said. Syrian tanks hit a strategic highway in the al-Rastan area in the early hours of Monday morning, apparently attempting to dislodge army defectors who had taken refuge there, activists and residents said.

Activists reported hearing heavy explosions.

The army defectors have been supporting the pro-democracy protesters in al-Rastan, which is located about 20km north of the city of Homs, along the main highway leading to Turkey.

Activists also said that military reinforcements had been sent to Quseir, a town on the border with Lebanon.

The Syrian army had been strengthening its presence in Quseir on Saturday after civilians had attempted to flee violence in the country.

The initial deployments came a day after activists reported that security forces had killed 12 civilians in the town, and one more in Hama.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organisation, said that 12 people had been killed in Quseir during raids by government security forces earlier.

The observatory said that security forces had opened fire on protesters in neighbourhoods of Homs, but did not provide any further details or information on possible casualties.

On Sunday, the observatory reported the deaths of four more people, including that of Hassan Eid, the head of the surgery department at the state-run hospital in Homs. Syrian state television said that Eid had been killed by “armed terrorist gangs”.

Three inhabitants of the area were injured when troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, used heavy machine guns mounted on tanks to fire upon the town, after having surrounded it earlier in the night.

The observatory also reported that 10 students had been arrrested by security forces in Dael, a city in Deraa province, on Sunday.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has put the number of people killed in the crackdown at more than 2,700 since March 15.

The Syrian authorities say 700 police and army personnel have been killed by “terrorists” and “mutineers”.

Damascus deployment

Also on Sunday, additional security forces were deployed to the Damascus suburb of Douma, which has seen several protests against Assad’s rule, activists said.

Syria has been gripped by almost daily anti-government protests since March 15. While the demonstrations initially called for democratic reform, the protesters’ stance has hardened in the face of a crackdown.

Damascus says that the protesters are not indicative of popular sentiment, and has blamed “armed gangs” and “terrorists” for the violence.

Political pressure on Syria to stop its crackdown on protest was given new life on Saturday as new European Union sanctions went into effect, and Turkey said that it had intercepted an sea-bound arms shipment bound for Syria.









Anonymous strikes back

The hacktivist group, Anonymous, has been rather quiet lately. The recent arrest of an alleged key player of LulzSec, Jake Davis, is to blame for the lull.

Davis, also known as “Topiary,” was arrested at his home in Scotland by an e-crime unit in late July.

Now the 19-year-old’s arrest has become the key motive for the latest attack.

Anonymous on Thursday added another casualty to their list, Texas law enforcement, with a massive email, internal documents and addresses leak.

Anon made their intentions clear in a statement that was released to the web:

“We are doing this in solidarity with the ‘Anonymous 16’ PayPal LOIC defendants, accused LulzSec member Jake Davis ‘Topiary,’ protesters arrested during #OpBart actions, Bradley Manning, Stephen Watt and other hackers and leakers worldwide,” the group said.

Anon said they’ve been laying dormant in Texan law enforcement servers, getting ready for this instance. Now Anonymous has exposed 3 gigabytes of Police Chief emails and shutdown their website.

The email dump brings racism and bigotry out in the open to what was supposed to be confidential police chat.

Robert Wieners, police chief of Friendswood, Texas, wrote in one unearthed email, “that stupid bitch who started that stolen car chase at Yale and 610 got what she deserved (I’ll bet she was fat and black too). Same with that pervert that got shot by the county. Fuck that guy, see ya.”

“That all sounds like good police work to me. Those folks got the criminal cure. It’s guaranteed, they will never commit a crime again,” the police chief went on to say.

In another email, law enforcement agents call each other “fag” and accuse Muslims of inbreeding.

In an email with the subject line, “1,400 years of inbreeding among Muslims,” an officer expresses his thoughts on followers of Islam:

“Don’t know but if it is true that they have as a common practice of marrying first cousins, all kinds of problems can erupt. OK, I looked at all my ‘hoax sites’ but couldn’t find anything.”

The article they were referring to reads, “I admit that I have not studied the Koran or Quroan or whatever it is, nor do I intend to!! I was subjected to enough of their total nonsense as only a casual observer in their part of the world 😦 …I only forward this for your reading pleasure and to add to our understanding of the Muslim world. Sharing my opinion that they need to stay in their own sandbox instead of trying to inflict their insane beliefs and religion upon civilized people.”

Is this the start of another wave of attacks from the hacktivist? Injustices beware.

The Internet and Iran – ‘It Is Possible to Pull the Plug’

The regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to completely cut Iran off from the Internet. But activists in the country are well-versed in circumventing official censorship. In a conversation with SPIEGEL, Internet expert Philip Howard explains how they do it and says that complete digital isolation is virtually impossible.

SPIEGEL: Iran has announced its intention to completely cut itself off from the Internet. Is such a thing realistic?

Howard:The government in Tehran has already shown itself to be capable of such a thing. Following the controversial re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, the country was cut off for about 24 hours. But when a regime shuts down the Internet, it is usually also a last, desperate measure.

SPIEGEL: Even in 2009, the country wasn’t completely offline.

Howard: The Iranian government asked the three largest Internet service providers to shut down, but they didn’t bother with the smaller ones. What many states don’t understand is that digital networks are essentially networks. When you remove two or three important nodes, other nodes pick up the traffic. And there are always a few activists who are prepared and have their satellite phones ready. They set up connections to Internet service providers in Europe and they work out other ways of getting out a little bit of information.

SPIEGEL: Instead of using landlines, some Iranian bloggers have taken to using satellite dishes to access the Internet.

Howard: That, though, is relatively difficult from a technical point of view. It’s not easy to adapt the satellite dishes…

SPIEGEL: … which are increasingly being destroyed by special police units…

Howard: …and access the web via providers in Dubai or Cyprus. It is difficult to say if this route will remain open when the regime imposes its total boycott.

SPIEGEL: How else could a complete boycott be circumvented?

Howard: Universities often have their own distinct connections to one another. Major trading houses or major financial centers also sometimes have backup connections. They are electronic networks that may be distinct from what the regime shuts off.

SPIEGEL: There is no way for Tehran to go back to a time before the World Wide Web?

Howard: A complete partition is not possible. As long as there are a few lines open, activists will find a way to use them. The US is working on developing the ability to send digital packets that are invisible and are only interpretable for other machines that you set up on the network that know what to look for. It’s called a dark Web infrastructure and you can use it to take advantage of networks belonging to universities or companies that we don’t normally think of as being part of the Internet.

SPIEGEL: From a technical perspective, what would an attempt to cut a country off from the Internet look like?

Howard: You have to try to reconfigure things so that all of the Internet service providers go through one “Internet exchange point.” At the time of the unrest in Iran, there were a few Internet exchange points. Now, it looks as though the regime has found some of the smaller ones and shut them down and rerouted all of the traffic to one. Then it is possible to pull the plug on that one Internet exchange point.

SPIEGEL: Were Tehran to make such a move, the price would be high. The country would become even more isolated.

Howard: And the price wouldn’t just be political. Were Iran to disconnect its oil industries from global information flows, the impact on those industries’ ability to deliver what little they can sell would be enormous. When Hosni Mubarak shut off the Internet in Egypt during the protests there, the impact was disastrous. The five days offline cost the Egyptian economy an estimated €250 million.

SPIEGEL: President Ahmadinejad has indicated he wants to provide an alternative, a so-called intranet which will allow Iranians to communicate among themselves.

Howard: It is certainly possible. China has the best example of a national network that is relatively disconnected from the rest of the global information infrastructure. The Chinese have built software that basically mimics anything we develop in the West and embed surveillance algorithms deeply into them. But I’d be very surprised if the Iranians were able to launch all of this.

SPIEGEL: So all this talk about a gigantic intranet, it is just propaganda?

Howard: It is mostly a political threat. Their goal probably isn’t to totally disconnect. The idea is probably to slow down the Internet traffic so much that you can use a program to inspect each piece of information that comes and goes. It’s a very inefficient way of doing censorship, but it is the most effective.

SPIEGEL: Iran’s blogger scene is considered particularly adept at avoiding censorship.

Howard: There are not many Muslim countries which have a population as networked as that of Iran. Ten million Iranians are regular Internet users. Particularly the politically engaged youth know the web and know the tricks.

SPIEGEL: Tricks to get around having to use the government-controlled servers, you mean?

Howard: Proxy servers are one of the things that activists have put to work for themselves. So when the state tries to shut down the Internet or when you learn that an authoritarian regime is watching particular sites or trying to disable YouTube or Twitter, proxy servers are very helpful as ways of getting around those. They open doors where other doors have been shut. I’ve also heard that gaming consoles such as PlayStation or Xboxes can be turned into devices for sending out information without having to go through Internet exchange points.

SPIEGEL: But the regime too has a fair amount of know-how.

Howard: We know that the Iranians possess high-grade censorship programs. Some of the systems come from companies such as Nokia-Siemens. And the best commercial grade censorship software comes out of Silicon Valley. The same software that we might use to prevent our children from looking at porn on the Internet is basically the same software that is sold to regimes, but instead of entering pornography-related terms, you put in terms like student union, protest or democratization.

SPIEGEL: The US government has approved around $70 million to set up so-called shadow networks to help dissidents communicate independent of the official Internet.

Howard: I don’t think you can read this to say that the US is interested in supporting dissidents around the world. I think you can read it to suggest that the US likes to be able to control the software and maybe turn it off when necessary.

SPIEGEL: Still, even if the Iranians are Internet savvy, it didn’t seem to help them much. The Green Revolution was brutally put down.

Howard:But the mullahs are split in a way that they never have been before. And the world saw that Persians took to the streets and were willing to face tear gas and rubber bullets, just like in Egypt and Tunisia. The Internet was useful by enabling journalists to publish stories overseas that they couldn’t publish at home. We are seeing the same thing in Libya, Syria and Yemen, although I don’t think the Internet has the same logistical function in those countries as it did in Tunisia and Egypt.

SPIEGEL: And Iran, it would seem, had its chance but wasn’t quite able to pull it off.

Howard: I don’t think of it as a failed revolution. I think of it as the one that almost happened. The democratization efforts didn’t prevail, but the system of political communication in that country has so significantly changed that the next time they rig an election, it will be very difficult to pull off peacefully.

Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz and Hilmar Schmundt