x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sky News Arabia’s social media platforms hacked

Sky News Arabia’s social media platforms were hacked by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army, the broadcaster has announced.

ABU DHABI // Sky News Arabia’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were hacked by pro-regime Syrian activists early this morning.

A group referring to itself as the Syrian Electronic Army (Sea) took over the 24-hour news channel’s main Twitter accounts about midnight, along with its Facebook page.

The hackers, who support the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, had control of the sites for five and a half hours. They changed Sky News Arabia’s display picture and name on Twitter and posted messages.

A spokesman for the channel said: “We are ensuring all our IT systems are secure and there are no viruses on the PCs, and especially the social media teams’ computers.”

He said the company regularly changed its passwords as a matter of security.

“They’ve been double-checked and we’ve been changing passwords and social-media accounts. We’re also double checking there are no Trojans,” the spokesman said.

Fadi Salem, a Dubai media researcher, said Sea was a group of pro-Assad students with hacking and technical skills who attack what they consider to be “anti-Assad” media organisations.

Websites belonging to Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera and Harvard University have been targeted by them.

“Sometimes they just deface the website with pro-regime material,” said Mr Salem, adding the group had also hacked into media organisations’ emails.

He said Sea had developed several tools and techniques to disrupt social media.

“They would take a Twitter hashtag involving Syria and put up information so the real tweets would get lost in what’s called ‘white noise’, he said.

“It distracts the public and the message gets lost.”

Sky News Arabia responded later in the day saying that all of their social-media platforms had been reactivated and were functioning normally.

“The affected social media accounts were back under Sky News Arabia’s control by the early morning, although they were not reactivated until 4pm to allow for precautionary IT security measures to be implemented,” said the statement.

Sky News Arabia began broadcasting to more than 50 million homes from its Abu Dhabi headquarters in May last year.

The channel is part of a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, a private investment company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, and British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB).

eharnan@thenational.ae