Just days after they targeted the New York Post, the pro-Assad hacking group – Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) – has targeted Outbrain.com, a company that delivers recommended content links to the bottom of articles published by more than 400 websites including CNN, Time, Fox News, NBC News, Reuters, US Weekly, Slate, Mashable, and the Washington Post.
The SEA used their access, which based on screenshots released by the group, appears to have come by way of compromising the VPN access of a company executive, to compromise Outbrain.com’s WordPress installation, as well as their content distribution system.
The distribution point controls the recommended links presented on their customer’s pages. These links were in turned used by the SEA to redirect visitors to pro-Assad propaganda.
“The Washington Post Web site was hacked today, with readers on certain stories being redirected to the site of the Syrian Electronic Army. The group is a hacker collective that supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Post is working to resolve the issue,” a statement from the Post’s editors said.
The SEA published screenshots showing the backend administration panels used to manage recommended links for the CNN and Time, but a separate screenshot shows records for 3M, Disney Infinity, 7Elecen, The Onion, and BBC. Other than the Washington Post, none of the other firms have issued statements or reported attacks.
For their part, Outbrain.com posted to Twitter that they had suffered an attack, and pulled their service offline: “Due to an attack, our recommendations are down. Our team is working to get our system secure & up shortly. Apologize for any inconvenience,” the company Tweeted.
In a blog, the company expanded on that statement, noting that the “breach now seems to be secured and the hackers blocked out, but we are keeping the service down for a little longer until we can be sure its safe to turn it back on securely.”
In an interview about the incident, adding a researchers perspective, Craig Young, a Senior Security Researcher for Tripwire, told CSO that at this point, standard incident response procedures will apply.
“They are definitely going to need to do through checks against their systems, in order to make sure that no backdoors have been installed, and that compromised passwords have been changed. I don’t think it is game over for them so much, but any information that was in their network certainly shouldn’t be considered private anymore,” he said.
The SEA is known for using Phishing, and other social engineering tricks in order to gain access to their victims. In order to spread pro-Assad propaganda, they favor social media accounts and news organizations. With a list that traces back to mid-2012, the SEA has claimed responsibility for attacks against the Associated Press, eleven accounts maintained by Britain’s The Guardian, three accounts maintained by CBS News, and Thompson Reuters.
In May, Twitter warned media companies about attacks such as the ones initiated by the SEA, and said that for the foreseeable Phishing attacks would continue, as it was clear “that news and media organizations will continue to be high value targets to hackers.”