London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) has claimed responsibility for attacks on the websites of the New York Times, Huffington Post UK, and Twitter. The New York Times’ online services were temporarily unavailable Tuesday afternoon local time, forcing the company to use a mirror website.
The Huffington Post UK and Twitter were less affected, and were able to continue functioning with only minor technical problems.
Twitter released a statement saying that the “viewing of images and photos was sporadically impacted.” Huffington Post UK had not issued and comments at the time of writing.
The SEA has performed dozens of such attacks since its formation in 2011, which have targeted major media outlets such as the BBC, CNN, and the Financial Times.
The incidents were confirmed to be a Domain Name Server (DNS) attack.
A DNS is a server that relays information requests. When entering a website address (such as aawsat.net), a designated DNS—normally provided by hosting companies—translates the domain name into a series of numbers. This directs users to the relevant website address.
It is suspected that all three of the affected websites were using servers from same hosting company, Melbourne IT, based in Australia.
Twitter confirmed in a status update that “At 20:49 UTC, our DNS provider experienced an issue in which it appears DNS records for various organizations were modified, including one of Twitter’s domains used for image serving, twimg.com.”
“By 22:29 UTC, the original domain record for twimg.com was restored,” the statement confirmed.
The SEA claims not to be officially affiliated with the embattled Syrian government. Nonetheless, it exclusively targets sources of dissent against Bashar Al-Assad and his Ba’athist government.
“I can’t say how, but yes we did hit Melbourne IT,” the Associated Press news agency quoted an SEA activist as saying. Nonetheless, the affected company has not confirmed that the Syrian group was behind the attack.
Marc Frons, chief information officer for the New York Times said in an interview published by the paper that it was highly sophisticated attack.
“In terms of the sophistication of the attack, this is a big deal,” Frons said. “It’s sort of like breaking into the local savings and loan versus breaking into Fort Knox. A domain registrar should have extremely tight security because they are holding the security to hundreds if not thousands of Web sites.”
The attack comes at a heightened time of heightened international tension as the governments of the US, Britain and France continue to threaten cruise missile strikes on Syrian government targets. This follows allegations of a nerve gas attack on a Damascus suburb last week, which led to some 3,600 people being treated for neurotoxic symptoms according to Médecins sans Frontières.