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After a series of digital attacks on news organizations by the Syrian Electronic Army hacker group, members of hacktivist collective Anonymous may have struck back by swiping SEA data and publishing personal information of purported SEA members. But the SEA, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, denies that it has ever been hacked and says the data revealed does not belong to its members.
The SEA has been causing a ruckus online ever since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. Using mostly amateur tactics like phishing emails to deface websites and hijack social media feeds, the group has carried out attacks on Twitter, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, NPR, Thomson Reuters and The Huffington Post's U.K. site, among other targets.
Although the SEA is said to not be officially sanctioned by the Syrian government, the group has described its attacks as revenge for the way Western media outlets have reported the Syrian conflict. The hacker group claims to have more than 10,000 members; interviews suggest there are between four and nine core leaders coordinating the hacking schemes.
International news site Global Post reported Tuesday that the SEA suffered a significant hack in mid-April. A hacker working in Syria, who may or may not be affiliated with Anonymous, recently told tech site Motherboard that he had broken into an SEA server and snagged about 140 email addresses of purported SEA members. These data weren't released until after reports surfaced alleging that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 civilians.
Both the Global Post and security reporter Brian Krebs wrote that a trove of private information about the SEA -- including email addresses, passwords, Twitter handles and email messages of many purported SEA members -- was published on Deep Web sites sometime over Labor Day weekend. The data dump also appears to unmask the identities of a handful of the SEA's top members.
Motherboard reported that a young man named Hatem Deeb was revealed by the hack to be the leader of the group. NBC News recently pointed out that Deeb had been named as a "founding member" of the SEA in a Syrian newspaper article published back at the beginning of the Syrian conflict.
However, an SEA spokesperson, who wished to be called Syrian Eagle, told The Huffington Post Wednesday that the SEA had never been hacked -- by Anonymous or anyone. Syrian Eagle went on to say that the individuals named in the Global Post report were not actually SEA members at all.
"They published pictures/names of unknown persons for us," the spokesman said.
Syrian Eagle went on to add that news sites reporting the identities of alleged SEA leaders were just trying to "get attention" and speculated that the sites must have been ordered "to publish fake/fabricated informations about us."
Speaking to VICE back in May, an experienced and active Anonymous member known as Commander X said, "To be honest, the war has gone on so long now, you could probably fill up a book if you were to detail every engagement between Anonymous and the SEA."