Syria's cyberattack: First wave of a bigger war?
This is where the real terrorist threat to U.S. national security is.
In this case not as critical as the cyber-warfare prep that is being done by other countries like China that would allow them to try and shut down the U.S. power grid and other critical infrastructures during a time of war.
By Brian Todd and Forrest Brown, CNN
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Fri August 30, 2013
Washington (CNN) -- "Server Not Found."
Those three ominous words -- especially for an organization in the highly competitive news business -- were seen on computer screens nationwide as customers tried to access The New York Times website this week. The newspaper's site was crippled for more than 20 hours.
A notorious group of hackers called the Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility.
Beyond the crippling of one high-profile newspaper website, the incident has people asking broader questions about U.S. cybersecurity: How vulnerable are U.S. websites to attack? Who are our potential cyberenemies? Is there more to come?
The answers aren't comforting: Computer and homeland security experts now warn of a broader cyberwar if the U.S. launches military strikes on Syria.
Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, believes the Syrian Electronic Army will likely strike again -- and might have help.
"If they did work with some of their allies -- with Iran, if they were to get some support from China and Russia -- then the game changes quickly," Cilluffo said. "It escalates in terms of capability."
The Syrian Electronic Army might not be the most sophisticated gathering of hackers at the moment, but experts say its shown the ability to wreak plenty of havoc -- primarily with media outlets so far.
Such attacks can be costly.
In April, the group hacked the Twitter feed operated by the Associated Press and put out a fake message saying "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured."
That caused a brief panic, and stock markets plummeted temporarily.
Helmi Noman, a researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs' Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, predicts these hackers will look for more chances to exploit weaknesses in America's cybergrids.
"It's not what they want to do or could do; it's what are the available vulnerabilities out there," said Noman.
The Syrian Electronic Army has already ably demonstrated those soft spots -- and that's by a possibly ragtag group that's not considered particularly sophisticated in the hacking world.
"The Syrian Electronic Army is a murky, underground group that has made a name for itself by plastering pro-regime propaganda across some of the Internet's most trafficked sites," a U.S. official told CNN.
"It's clearly a nuisance, but its tactics aren't all that sophisticated. And while the regime probably welcomes its efforts, Damascus isn't necessarily calling the shots."