WASHINGTON -- The Syrian hacker group that has taken credit for causing outages on the websites of the New York Times and other news organizations probably will increase its activity if the U.S. launches military strikes on the Middle Eastern nation, a cybersecurity expert said Wednesday.
The Syrian Electronic Army wants to keep people from reading what it views as negative information about the regime of President Bashar Assad, which it supports, said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence for CrowdStrike, an Internet security firm in Irvine.
The group does so by launching hacking attacks on news and social media sites.
"They're gearing up to continue the campaign, and if the hammer starts to come down on the current regime, they're going to start desperately trying to provide positive messaging and negatively impact those speaking badly about the regime," Meyers said.
In the attack on the New York Times website, which was down for large parts of Tuesday and into Wednesday, the Syrian Electronic Army used a tactic known as "spear phishing" to get access to the user name and password of a sales partner at an Australian Internet company.
The firm, MelbourneIT, allows website owners to buy Internet addresses and the hackers were able to prevent computers from accessing the New York Times website. The news organization redirected readers to a bare-bones alternate site Wednesday.
Twitter, the Huffington Post and other news organizations also were affected by the attack Wednesday and in recent weeks.
"We placed twitter in darkness as a sign of respect for all the dead Syria-ns due to the lies tweeted it," the Syrian Electronic Army said on its Twitter account Tuesday, one of several tweets referencing the hacking attacks.
This summer, CrowdStrike detected activity by the Syrian Electronic Army aimed at the Los Angeles Times, Meyers said. The group used a Facebook page that has since been taken down to post a flood of comments on articles about Syria to raise doubts about their credibility, he said.
"Their big initiative is to impact dialogue and change messaging to have a pro-Syrian slant to it," Meyers said. "Anything they can do to put up a pro-Syrian slant...or negatively impact an anti-Syrian slant, they do."
The Tribune Co. had no comment, said spokesman Gary Weitman.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, would not comment on whether the government was monitoring the hacking attacks.