Syrian Electronic Army hits numerous media sites with DNS redirection attack

Thanksgiving DNS attack spawns redirects and pop-ups

Pro-Assad nuisance-makers The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) have returned from their slumber to pull of another DNS-level hack on possibly hundreds of websites including The London Evening Standard, The Independent, The Chicago Tribune, CNBC, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes and even PC World and the US National Hockey League.

The lengthy list of the victims (Gigya has connections to 700 sites) had experts speculating about a fairly significant compromise in the guts of the Internet and sure enough it is being reported that the SEA found a way into registrar GoDaddy to compromise DNS records for the Gigya media management platform used by the sites.

The attack didn't affect all visitors, which spread confusion, but when it did users were redirected using to SEA web pages with the message "You've been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army."

In some cases browser security blocked the redirection, or a mobile device was being used, in which case these users saw a pop-up screen with the same message.

The number of affected sites is not yet clear but probably runs to hundreds - one list drawn from Twitter reports had reached 100 sites by early afternoon, GMT.

Some news sites are describing the incident as a hack on a Content Delivery Network (CDN), but the attack bears some resemblance to a similar attack the SEA pulled off in August 2013 when it managed to modify the master DNS setting for sites including Twitter and The New York Times by breaking into a third party firm, Melbourne IT.

This would have entailed compromising Gigya's presence on the affected sites without actually penetrating Gigya's systems. The SEA even helpfully posted what appears to be a domain renewal form from GoDaddy (see above) to give investigators some clues.

The Melbourne IT incident was on the face of it more serious - the SEA took over whole domains - but the latest hack will still be embarrassing.

Neither GoDaddy or Gigya has yet commented on the attacks in detail beyond the latter confirming the incident occurred but the compromise is believed to have been stopped fairly quickly. One media firm, Canada's Globe and Mail, said it had disabled Gigya functionality on its site as a precaution.

The SEA's activity comes and goes. After a few minor attacks in the last year, the Gigya incident is the biggest for some time.

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