Ad network compromise led to rogue page redirects on Reuters site

The Syrian Electronic Army compromised a third-party widget to redirect some visitors to a defacement page

Users who accessed some stories on the Reuters website Sunday were redirected to a message from hackers criticizing the news agency's coverage of Syria.

The attack was carried out by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a hacker group that's publicly supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government and which has targeted various media organizations in the past, including IDG.

"Stop publishing fake reports and false articles about Syria! UK government is supporting the terrorists in Syria to destroy it. Stop spreading its propaganda," the rogue message seen by some visitors read.

According to a security researcher named Frederic Jacobs, SEA did not actually hack into Reuters' website, but injected the redirect code into it through a New York-based advertising network called Taboola.

"It is still unclear how Taboola was compromised but given SEA's track record, phishing would be my first guess," Jacobs said Sunday in a blog post.

The value of compromising Taboola is actually greater for SEA than compromising Reuters, because according to the ad network's site, it delivers its recommendations to 350 million unique visitors each month and has partnerships with high-profile media sites including, USA Today, the New York Times, BBC, TMZ, The Hollywood Reporter,, Examiner and others.

Any of Taboola's clients could have been attacked in a similar way to Reuters, Jacobs said.

Taboola acknowledged being the source of the compromise and said that SEA hacked one of its widgets used on

The security breach lasted from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. EDT Sunday with no suspicious activity being detected after that time, Adam Singolda, Taboola's CEO, said in a blog post.

"While we use 2-step authentication, our initial investigation shows the attack was enabled through a phishing mechanism," Singolda said. "We immediately changed all access passwords, and will continue to investigate this over the next 24 hours."

SEA's preferred method of attack is spear phishing -- a targeted form of phishing. When the group doesn't succeed at compromising an employee from its targeted organization it goes after that organization's partners and various service providers.

In August 2013 SEA used spear phishing to compromise a reseller account at Melbourne IT, an Australian domain registrar and IT services company. The attack allowed the hacker group to alter the DNS (Domain Name System) records for several domain names including,,, and and temporarily redirect those websites to a server under its control.

In February the group gained access to the administration panel of a San Francisco-based company called MarkMonitor that manages domain names on behalf of large enterprises. This allowed them to change the WHOIS information for, changing the domain's contact address to Damascus, Syria.

In April, SEA managed to redirect users trying to access the RSA Conference website to a defacement page. The attack was carried out through Lucky Orange, a real-time Web analytics provider used by the RSA Conference website.

"If you're using 3rd party analytics or advertising networks, your website's security relies on the weakest of those since any of them is able to take over your website (and potentially steal your user's data or trick them into installing malware)," Jacobs said. "Websites like Reuters use more than 30 of these services and thus expose a considerable attack surface."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags intrusiononline safetyThomson ReuterssecurityMarkMonitorAccess control and authenticationMelbourne IT

More about BBC Worldwide AustralasiaIDGMelbourne ITOrangeReuters AustraliaRSA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place