Hackers promoting the Syrian Electronic Army simultaneously targeted
websites belonging to CNN, Time and the Washington Post on Thursday by
breaching Outbrain, a firm which publishes content recommendations on
That resulted in some WashingtonPost.com and Time.com
customers being redirected to the website of the Syrian Electronic Army
when they clicked on the content from Outbrain, said Outbrain Vice
President Lisa LaCour. The CNN International site briefly displayed a
headline that said "Hacked by SEA," she said.
Electronic Army is an online group that supports Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad and has been linked to several high profile attacks. They
include one on the Associated Press' Twitter feed in which a bogus
message was sent out about explosions at the White House.
(Also see: Hackers tweet White House explosions from Associated Press account, markets tumble)
latest attacks were significant because the hackers simultaneously
targeted several sites by breaching a single supplier whose content is
published on multiple platforms.
In previous campaigns linked to
the Syrian Electronic Army, hackers have breached networks using similar
tactics. But in those cases emails were sent to employees of a single
specific media outlet they were targeting, which made preparations for
the attacks more labor intensive.
Outbrain, which posts content on
a large number of prominent news sites, took down its entire network at
about 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) on Thursday, before the hackers could do
any more damage, LaCour said.
The company's technicians, who are
based in Israel, cleaned up the network and planned to restore service
late on Thursday, she said.
Outbrain said the hackers got in after
sending a phishing email to all company employees on Wednesday that
purported to be from the CEO. An employee provided login credentials in
response to that email and then the hackers were able to get other
credentials for accessing internal systems, the company said.
Wysopal, chief technology officer for software security firm Veracode,
said he believes that hackers will increasingly choose to go after
third-party providers because their security is likely to be more lax
than that of their customers.
"As the Internet becomes more interconnected, this risk is going to increase," he said.
and CNN, both owned by Time Warner, and the Washington Post all said
they believed that their sites had not been impacted by anything besides
the attack on Outbrain.
© Thomson Reuters 2013