A fake tweet that claimed President Obama had been injured after explosions went off at the White House was quickly debunked by the Associated Press, which said its Twitter account had been hacked.
But a band of hackers who support Syrian President Bashar Assad crowed that they had sent Americans into a tizzy.
“This small tweet created some chaos in the United States in addition to a decline in some U.S. stocks,” the Syrian Electronic Army wrote on its website, referring to a brief, steep drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It claimed credit for hijacking both @AP and @AP_Mobile.
Overtaking the news agency on Twitter is the latest in a long string of attacks for which the group has claimed credit. The hackers pledge allegiance to Assad and call the rebellion against his government “an armed insurrection that seeks to lead Syria into a dreadful anarchy.”
Online, the group has waged a cyber war parallel to the real and deadly battles in the streets of Syria, harassing groups that back rebels and media outlets it sees as biased.
Earlier this week, the Syrian Electronic Army claimed to have hacked Twitter accounts for FIFA, the world soccer federation, and its president, Joseph Blatter. The organization has been trying to fend off allegations that Qatar – which backs Syrian rebels – bribed officials in order to host the 2022 World Cup.
The bogus tweets played on those claims. “So what if I took money from Qatari prince?” read one of the fake tweets from Blatter’s account. “I am the family's bread earner.”
The hackers also claimed credit this week for hijacking Twitter accounts tied to the CBS network, including the @60Minutes account, which reportedly tweeted, "The U.S. government is sponsoring a coup in Venezuela and a terrorist war in Syria" and “Obama wants to destroy the Syrian and American people. We must stop this beast.”
Last month, the same group apparently struck the British Broadcasting Corp. accounts, including @BBCWeather, putting out bizarrely parodic messages such as "Chaotic weather forecast for Lebanon as the government decides to distance itself from the Milky Way."
The BBC reported that hack followed “phishing” emails sent to its employees. Such messages, disguised as legitimate requests, are used to prompt people to provide passwords or other compromising information to hackers. Phishers also targeted the AP before the fake tweets went up.
The @AP and @AP_Mobile accounts were suspended shortly after the hack and remained unavailable as of early Tuesday afternoon. Associated Press media relations director Paul Colford told The Times that the company had also suspended other Twitter feeds “out of a sense of caution.”
While some of the groups targeted by the Syrian Electronic Army are unsurprising, such as the Qatar Foundation or Human Rights Watch, others have baffled onlookers. Last year the group claimed to have hacked the blog for the social networking website LinkedIn, saying it was spreading lies about Syria. Blog visitors were reportedly rerouted to another website backing Assad.
Other targets have reportedly included Al Jazeera, National Public Radio and the Reuters news service. The Syrian Electronic Army account has been repeatedly suspended on Twitter, only to pop up under another name. The latest account was still active as of early Tuesday afternoon.