By OMAR ABDALLATIF
April 1st, 2008
DAMASCUS, April 1, 2008 (MENASSAT) . Journalists covering the Arab
summit from the Damascus media center on Saturday morning were
astonished to find access to many official Syrian websites blocked.
Access was denied to the official Syrian news agency, SANA, newspapers
like al-Thawra and Tishrine and news websites such as Syria News, Sham
Press and Zaman al-Wasel.
Rumors quickly spread among journalists that Syria was under a computer
attack, probably originating in France, Turkey or Lebanon. Officials at
the Ministry of Communications preferred not to divulge the source of
the hacking, instead releasing an official statement saying, "The attack
on the websites hosted by foreign companies came from outside the Syrian
territories with no specific source."
The Ministry later said that the Telecommunications Institution and the
Syrian Scientific Association were collaborating with the host companies
to solve the problem and put the websites back online. Backup copies of
the websites were being transported to the Syrian Scientific Association
in anticipation of another attack.
Attacks of this kind are known as "dos attacks," which sent imaginary
requests and visits to the sites and servers so as to prevent the sites
from serving the real users' requests properly. The hackers used
high-speed connections to attack the IPs of the websites in question.
The Syrian officials at the media center were visibly confused by what
was happening. Despite all the efforts to switch the sites to other IPs,
the breakdown lasted for more than seven hours, and the effects were
still apparent on Tuesday, when SANA's website stopped working more than
Some journalistic sources held Syrian opposition figures responsible for
the attack, perhaps with the collaboration of the Lebanese (anti-Syrian)
majority. However, this information was not confirmed.
Al-Arabiya TV initially published a report about the attack on its
website, alarabiya.net, before removing it for reasons unknown. The
channel stated that "two major Syrian websites were subject to hacker
attacks coinciding with the speech of President Bashar al-Assad during
the opening of the Arab Summit in Damascus on March 29. Well-informed
sources requesting anonymity confirmed to al-Arabiya that SANA and Sham
Press websites were subject to an electronic attack perpetrated by the
Syrian opposition and some Lebanese groups, refusing to give names and
to specify the exact source of the attack."
The Syrian journalists judged that this attack was not innocent,
especially since it came at a time when the Syrian regime is under
fierce political attack from abroad.
According to Adnan al-Khatib, a journalist from SANA, "The aim of this
attack is to keep the facts of the Summit from being transmitted to the
international public opinion." In his opinion, the attack could only
have come from sources opposing the summit in Damascus.
The Damascus summit was boycotted by half the Arab League's leaders,
with most pro-Western Arab countries, including Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi
Arabia and Egypt, sending only low-level delegations to Syria. The
boycott was in response to a call by the U.S. to stay away from Damascus
because of Syria's perceived meddling in the political crisis crippling
Lebanon. The Lebanese government boycotted the summit entirely.
Another Syrian journalist, Nidal Naissa, said the attack is "an
important lesson to the Ministry of Information and the concerned
officials, so they would learn the power of the word. It is the
strongest weapon, serving Syria more than any number of officials and
politicians, even if the [official] Syrian websites don't publish the
works of many Syrian writers, and has some reservations against many
names, including my own."
Naissa also pointed out that the attack on the Syrian websites comes on
the back of a political boycott of the Damascus summit, and should be
seen as a preemptive attack by the boycotting countries.
Since the websites under attack were hosted by servers outside Syria,
some people have suggested Syrian websites would do better to find
servers inside Syria itself to guard against such attacks in the future.
But Morhef Mino, managing editor of the news website Zaman al-Wasel,
itself a victim of the attack, begged to differ.
"I strongly encourage hosting newspapers and websites outside Syria
because we lack freedom of expression and the press in Syria. It is easy
to have a website banned just by contacting the Syrian intelligence
services. The Syrian Scientific Association is known to enter sites it
hosts to erase [critical] articles. So I'm against hosting inside Syria.
At the same time, it is not necessary for us to work with U.S. servers;
there are other possibilities in Europe, India or China," Mino said.
He added that it is not true that the source of the attack was unknown,
as the Ministry has claimed, because it is very easy for anyone in the
Ministry to simply follow the trail of IP addresses.
Nevertheless, he agreed that the timing of the attack was not innocent.
"This is an unprecedented incident and a black point in the history of
the Syrian media."
The Damascus Summit ended with a call for an end to the political crisis
in Lebanon. But there were no specific proposals to resolve the impasse
over the election of a new president.
Copyright Menassat 2007
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