It is starting to looks as if Pro-Assad Syrian hackers hijacked several BBCs Twitter accounts on Thursday as part of a wider attempt to compromise the Corporation’s email system, a BBC internal email has hinted.
During the three-hour takeover, several Twitter feeds including that for BBC Weather and Middle-eastern affairs, started spouting political messages linked to the self-styled ‘Syrian Electronic Army’.
The @BBCArabicOnline feed has just over 60,000 followers and tweets in Arabic so taking it over even for a brief period counts a coup for a group with obvious Pro-Assad sympathies.
As embarrassing as this was, the attack appears to have been part of a larger campaign in which the Corporation was simultaneously targeted by phishing emails designed to lure unwary staff to a phishing site masquerading as the Guardian newspaper or Human Rights Watch online.
“It is very important that you do not enter your details into this page," according to the leaked internal BBC email, reported by news agencies.
How several Twitter accounts were compromised in one fell swoop will likely never be revealed but any Twitter account is only one password away from compromise at the best of time.
Calls for two-factor authentication are likely to grow louder with every passing takeover although using such a technology would impose a level of inconvenience on Twitter users.
The Syrian civil war has generated an unprecedented level of hacking. Last August hackers with similarly pro-Government sympathies hijacked the Reuters Twitter feed.
Around the same time, a fake blog was posted on Reuters’ blogging platform falsely announcing the death of Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Syrian Government hackers have also posted YouTube videos serving malware and even launched attacks on rebel sympathisers inside the country using remote surveillance Trojans and fake Skype identities.
“The attacks on the BBC used another common form of attack, which includes using email addresses stolen from specific databases using ‘SQL injection’ to launch targeted spear-phishing attacks against email users,” commented Wieland Alge of security firm Barracuda Networks.
“To mitigate against this, protecting your databases using properly configured web application firewalls (WAFs) should be a no-brainer,” he said.
The BBC seems to be a particular target for Middle-Eastern hackers; Iran was blamed for a concerted cyberattack on the Corporation last March that overwhelmed its phone system.