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Syria's cyberwars: using social media against dissent

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"Online social media, which virtually anyone can use from home, played a central role in the Syrian uprising and helped break the decades-old government media monopoly," Amjad Baiazy, a Syrian researcher living in London writes in a new study published last month by MediaPolicy.org, a London-based new media think tank. "But it helped the Syrian government crack down on activists."

As bombs fall and bullets fly, dissidents and opposition figures have had their favorite social media tools turned against them, and their cloak of anonymity pierced by veiled online hackers loyal to Syria's government.

Last fall, the government bought centralized Internet eavesdropping equipment. But dropping spyware directly onto activists’ computers is Syria's newest cyberwar trend.

Luring opposition sympathizers with tainted video links in e-mail, fake Skype encryption tools, tainted online documents, hackers believed to be allied to Syria's government have in recent months deployed an array of powerful spyware with names like DarkComet, backdoor.bruet, and Blackshades. Available on the Internet, these malware are used to infiltrate the personal computers of opposition figures and rights activists and send back information on their friends and contacts as well as passwords, cybersecurity experts say. The impact of this spying is hard to gauge. But even as the physical battle intensifies in and around Damascas, Syria cyber watchers are worried.

The Syrian regime had long blocked access to social media sites, says Richard Zaluski, president of the Center for Strategic Cyberspace and Security Science, a London-based think tank. 

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