The Onion pegs Syrian Electronic Army hacks on phishing schemes

May 10, 2013
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The Onion pegs Syrian Electronic Army hacks on phishing schemes

Over the last several weeks the Syrian Electronic Army has made a nuisance of itself (again), serving as a sort of annoying prankster who is repeatedly ordered to go stand in the corner. The organization is reportedly responsible for quite a number of hacks, with The Onion having been one of its unlucky victims. The humor website pinpointed the source of its infiltration and has revealed precisely how it happened, adding in a few pieces of advice for other media outlets to help combat the attacks.

Last month, the Syrian Electronic Army claimed credit for a few different compromised accounts. On April 21, the organization said it was responsible for the hacking of several CBS Twitter accounts, and a week later it went after The Guardian's Twitter accounts, sending out tweets in its own favor. It didn't take long for another compromised account to surface, this time being E! Online's Twitter account, where the hackers spread false information about singer Justin Bieber before proclaiming in another tweet that fans had been trolled.

Its latest target was The Onion, which was digitally infiltrated this past Monday by the SEA, something that was originally suspected to be a joke given the nature of the company. That notion was laid to rest on Wednesday when The Onion posted a series of screenshots and URLs detailing precisely how the organization compromised its Twitter account, revealing that the hack - as with previous ones - had been accomplished via a few different phishing methods.

The attack was initiated via emails sent to The Onion employees containing a link that, with a quick glance, appeared to be from The Washington Post on content about The Onion. When clicked, however, the link took the recipient to the URL "hackwordpresssite.com/theonion.php," which then redirected again to one requesting Google App login information, after which point it took the victim full circle back to Gmail. Only a few employees received the emails, and at least one was fooled by it, resulting in the second phase of the attack.

Using the employee's compromised email, the SEA sent messages to other The Onion employees early in the morning containing another link that again requested Google login information. Of those targeted, one of the individuals who fell for it had the login information for The Onion's social media accounts, including Twitter.

The Onion notified employees of the breech and sent emails instructing workers to reset their passwords, unaware that one of their accounts was still compromised. Via that account, the SEA sent an email to all but those involved in the IT department with a link said to be a password-reset URL. A couple people fell for the second link, with both of their accounts then being used by the hackers to take control of The Onion's Twitter account. Because of this, the company required all Google Apps passwords to be reset company wide, but not before posting a humorous jab at the SEA.

In summary, The Onion advises other media companies to avoid such attacks by taking such steps as employee education on phishing, isolating social media account logins, feeding tweets through a third-party application, and having access to all employees outside of corporate email accounts.

SOURCE: The Onion


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