After the New York Times went dark due to an “external attack,” pro-Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad hacktivist group Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) began posting a number of tweets that claim to have disrupted the DNS servers for many popular media websites — including Huffington Post and Twitter UK.
The SEA has boasted of its exploits by altering the Who.is directory entries of the Times, as well as the US and UK divisions of Twitter and Huffington Post UK. The Times and Twitter UK remain offline as of this writing, but the US division of the microblogging platform and the Huffington Post remain live. There remains a possibility for further damage, so it’s unclear whether the SEA’s activities will force them offline in the future.
The SEA is continuing to make threats against Twitter’s international websites, indicating that the platform will likely be the major target of the hacktivist group. Domain name servers are a crucial part of the Internet, containing the IP address of domain names you type into a browser. When a user types in a URL, the computer sends the request to a DNS server that then tells your computer the site’s IP address.
As for the claim that MelbourneIT, the registrar responsible for the DNS records of the compromised sites, may have been compromised via social engineering, David Ulevitch, the CEO of OpenDNS, refutes the idea. He wrote in an email, “Not social engineering, MelbourneIT had to be compromised, too many sites changed DNS records at the registry level for it to be social engineering.”
It’s also important to note that the websites are only inaccessible for certain users. For example, secure DNS provider OpenDNS has assured customers that the bad servers affecting the outages at both the Times and Twitter have been blocked from their system. As a result, those users are currently able to access all SEA-affected websites without any repercussions.
As of this writing, the Times’ main website remains offline, but the company has tweeted a link to a minimalist, mobile layout of the paper’s news feed.