Who is behind the elusive Syrian Electronic Army and its high-profile Twitter hackings?
Apparently opposition activists believe that Syrian president Bashal al-Assad's "billionaire cousin" Rami Makhlouf currently backs the cyber group financially.
Makhlouf is a wealthy businessman and considered to be one of the most powerful men in Syria. With an empire that encompasses industries such as telecommunications, gas, oil, banking, airlines, retail and schools, it is not difficult to believe the son of the former commander of the Syrian Republican guard controls 60 percent of the country's economy.
Makhlouf economic influence in the war-town Syria is so immense that according to Syrian analysts, no foreign company can do business in the country "without his consent and partnership."
In 2008, Makhlouf's personal wealth was estimated at about $6 billion.
Now the businessman is suspected of backing the SEA, one of the most successful hacking organization functioning today.
A source in the high profile "hacktivist" group Anonymous, told Heavy.com that they believe the SEA is affiliated with the Syrian government. Other sources have also stated that the organization operates with at least the tacit support of the government. Makhlouf's close ties with the government add to suspicions of his involvement.
According to the Guardian reporting, the SEA is believed to be operating out of a secret base in Dubai since reportedly leaving Damascus last year.
The SEA has successfully hacked into the Twitter accounts of some of the most important world news agencies including CBS, BBC, NPR — and the infamous AP tweet that plummeted the stock market after falsely informing its 1.9 million followers President Obama had been injured following a bomb attack in the White House.
On Monday, the Guardian was added to the SEA's list of cyber victims after the pro-Assad hacking group was able to gain access to 11 Guardian-related accounts, posting tweets such as “Follow the Syrian Electronic Army … Follow the truth! @Official_SEA12 #SEA #Syria”
James Ball, Data editor at the Guardian posted the following tweet:
The guys doing the Guardian phishing attack I mentioned yesterday (it's SEA) are really very good: sustained, changing, mails today.
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) April 29, 2013
Online activism has been one of the defining features of the ongoing Arab Spring, which has impulsed various revolution in the middle east. The SEA popped up in 2011 at the beginning of the anti-Assad revolution which has sent the country into a violent two-year-long civil war.