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Hacking In The Middle East As Counter-Revolution

Al Arabiya's headquarters

Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned television news channel which, like Al Jazeera, is received in most Middle Eastern nations and across Europe and the United States, has been subjected to a new hacking attack. This one came from a group calling itself Syria’s Electronic Army. They replaced Al Arabiya’s Facebook material with fake news reports. The replacement “news” however, was posted in Arabic on Al Arabiya’s English language Facebook page. The only thing worse that hackers is dumb hackers.

The SEA has accused Al Arabiya of being involved in “the destruction of Egypt and Libya” and working “day and night to broadcast venomous Brotherhood, Zionist thoughts in Egypt and the Arab world,” and for condoning “NATO’s occupation of Libya and its wealth.” The nature of the accusations are consistent with the attitudes expressed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the rebellion against his regime, that they are being aided by foreign powers and that the rebellion is an assault on “pan-Arabism,” a philosophy that drove his father and Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nassar, but has fallen into disfavor among the peoples of the Middle East. The al-Assad regime has accused the media, both within the Arab world and outside of it, of supporting the rebels and distorting the news.

Al Arabiya's Rima Mustafa in Jerusalem

Al Arabiya has suffered denial of service attacks and had their land line transmissions jammed in the past year. Since so much of the organization of the rebellions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, and the dissident movements in Iran and elsewhere, has been conducted on social media like Facebook and Twitter, the governments have been focused on trying to block and deface those avenues of shared information.

There has been an effort to transmit malware to these sites. Their attacks have included “automatic syndication of relevant content to build blackhat SEO content farms where the bogus content will attract unsuspecting visitors into clicking on malware-serving links.” Okay, I’m this blog’s tech-dummy, but I think what that means is they are creating attractive sites that people click on that then infest their computers and cellphones with damaging programs. Sort of like opening a bad e-mail because it says it’s from your favorite aunt and getting stuck in a porn-loop. That, I understand. Gee, can’t these geeks speak English so we know what they’re talking about? The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which monitors such things, has spotted several YouTube sites that are planting malware on the unsuspecting. The sites use an enticing story or video, invite the user to log in to post a comment or trick users into “uploading” an Adobe Flash Player update to view the video. These sites are being sent in the particular language or dialect of the targeted location where the users live. Individualizing content to a specific language is a new device in cyber warfare, intended to increase the number of people who fall into the traps being created.

Iran has hacked into the BBC’s Persian TV network. Only the owners of illegal satellite dishes in Iran can receive BBC Persian TV, and the hacking attack was directed at disrupting reception by these wanton criminals. The BBC satellite feeds into Iran were jammed while the London offices were overwhelmed with robo-calls. The BBC is avoiding an outright accusation against the Iranian government, but making it clear that the attacks are aimed at preventing Iranians from receiving information from sources other than the official news sites of the government.

BBC Persian is available on TV, radio and online in Farsi. Their audience has doubled since 2009 to approximately 6 million Iranians, out of a population of 79 million. Outside of Iran, the service reaches another 1.2 million ex-patriot Iranians. The news that is provided comes from Iranians inside Iran, a means of getting around the resistence to foreign journalists in Iran.

A free press is essential to liberty. That is a principle that free nations have proven over centuries. A free exchange of ideas is anathema to repression, the enemy of dictatorships. In another time, the sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia would have gone unnoticed by anyone outside of his neighborhood. Because of cellphones and computers, Facebook, Twitter and e-mails, his death because the inspiration for revolt across the region. The oppressors of the people of the Middle East, the entrenched regimes that have passed along presidencies like crowns, know that as long as ideas and information can flow freely across the ether, they are not safe, they cannot continue to isolate their people.

No one can stop the signal, but they can sure as hell keep trying.

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