Techies at The Onion: Here's how Syrian Electronic Army hacked our Twitter

New password: OnionMan77


Techies at satirical news outfit The Onion have posted an informative explanation about how pro-Assad hacktivists from the Syrian Electronic Army hijacked their official Twitter account on Monday.

Previously the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) has shanghaied its way into the official Twitter feeds of AP and the Guardian, using the former to post a tweet falsely claiming that there had been an explosion at the white House. The tweet caused the Dow Jones to briefly plummet, before stocks recovered after everyone realised it was a hoax.

We don't know how the keys to the AP or Guardian feeds were purloined, but in Monday's break-in to @theonion the SEA used a multi-phase phishing attack, techies at "America's Finest News Source" explained.

The first phase of the assault attempted to trick Onion staff into following a link purportedly to an article about The Onion published by The Washington Post. That link led to a fake site set up by hackers that requested Google Apps credentials. In turn, these credentials allowed the hacktivists to get into the Onion's Gmail accounts.

Hackers then used the compromised accounts to send out further phishing emails along the same lines - but this time the emails came from a trusted source. At this point the hacktivists struck gold: one of the two compromised accounts was associated with The Onion's social media accounts, allowing the pro-Assad group to hijack @TheOnion. Followers wondered whether or not updates such as “UN retracts report of Syrian chemical weapon use: Lab tests confirm it is Jihadi body odor” were unusually edgy satire or a sign that the feed had been kidnapped.

Th3 Pr0, a member of the SEA, told The New York Times that his crew targeted The Onion because of a recent parody supposedly put together by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, entitled: “Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People.”

The attack prompted techies at The Onion to email staff advising them to change their passwords. The hacktivists responded with an attempt to sow confusion by sending out a fake password reset message with links back to their credential-stealing page. Cannily, the SEA ensured none of these phishing emails went to anyone on the Onion's tech support team. This fresh assault trapped two new victims, one of whose accounts was subsequently abused to keep control of the seized Twitter profile.

The Onion's editorial team responded to the hack by posting articles mocking its attackers, such as "Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels". The SEA briefly (and humourlessly) retaliated by posting editorial email information on Twitter before the account was returned to its rightful owners.

In the aftermath of the hack The Onion's techies said user education about phishing is a vital first step against guarding against attacks against corporate social networking feeds.

Taking over a Twitter account is possible through a variety of mechanisms including phishing, password guessing, weak password reset set-ups and use of the same login credentials on Twitter and a site that becomes the victim of a password database compromise.

Isolating Twitter-linked accounts from regular email accounts and other preventive steps can limit the scope for mischief that arises from successful phishing attacks, while having alternative ways to contact employees if anything goes wrong can help resolve the results of any security breach quickly, the Onion tech team further suggests.

Two-step authentication techniques, such as sending a code by SMS to pre-registered phones to confirm password changes or use of tokens, promises to clamp down on account hijacking, which has peaked over recent weeks. Twitter is set to roll out two-step authentication in the near future.

All this sounds fair enough, and far better than the satirical notice that "The Onion Twitter password has been changed to OnionMan77" or its top tips for other media outlets on how to avoid getting hacked.

Additional security-related comment on the incident, alongside screenshots of several fake Tweets put out by the SEA, can be found in a blog post by Sophos. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Facebook phishing campaign nets millions in IDs and cash
    Hundreds of millions of stolen credentials and a cool $59 million

    An ongoing phishing campaign targeting Facebook users may have already netted hundreds of millions of credentials and a claimed $59 million, and it's only getting bigger.

    Identified by security researchers at phishing prevention company Pixm in late 2021, the campaign has only been running since the final quarter of last year, but has already proven incredibly successful. Just one landing page - out of around 400 Pixm found - got 2.7 million visitors in 2021, and has already tricked 8.5 million viewers into visiting it in 2022. 

    The flow of this phishing campaign isn't unique: Like many others targeting users on social media, the attack comes as a link sent via DM from a compromised account. That link performs a series of redirects, often through malvertising pages to rack up views and clicks, ultimately landing on a fake Facebook login page. That page, in turn, takes the victim to advert landing pages that generate additional revenue for the campaign's organizers. 

    Continue reading
  • SpaceX staff condemn Musk's behavior in open letter
    Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why

    A group of employees at SpaceX wrote an open letter to COO and president Gwynne Shotwell denouncing owner Elon Musk's public behavior and calling for the rocket company to "swiftly and explicitly separate itself" from his personal brand.

    The letter, which was acquired through anonymous SpaceX sources, calls Musk's recent behavior in the public sphere a source of distraction and embarrassment. Musk's tweets, the writers argue, are de facto company statements because "Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX."

    Musk's freewheeling tweets have landed him in hot water on multiple occasions – one incident even leaving him unable to tweet about Tesla without a lawyer's review and approval. 

    Continue reading
  • GPUs aren’t always your best bet, Twitter ML tests suggest
    Graphcore processor outperforms Nvidia rival in team's experiments

    GPUs are a powerful tool for machine-learning workloads, though they’re not necessarily the right tool for every AI job, according to Michael Bronstein, Twitter’s head of graph learning research.

    His team recently showed Graphcore’s AI hardware offered an “order of magnitude speedup when comparing a single IPU processor to an Nvidia A100 GPU,” in temporal graph network (TGN) models.

    “The choice of hardware for implementing Graph ML models is a crucial, yet often overlooked problem,” reads a joint article penned by Bronstein with Emanuele Rossi, an ML researcher at Twitter, and Daniel Justus, a researcher at Graphcore.

    Continue reading
  • Heineken says there’s no free beer, warns of phishing scam
    WhatsApp messages possibly the worst Father's Day present in the world

    There's no such thing as free beer for Father's Day — at least not from Heineken. The brewing giant confirmed that a contest circulating on WhatsApp, which promises a chance to win one of 5,000 coolers full of green-bottled lager, is a frothy fraud.

    "This is a scam. Thank you for highlighting it to us. Please don't click on links or forward any messages. Many thanks," the beermaker said in a tweet.

    The phony WhatsApp giveaway includes an image of a cooler of 18 Heinekens and a link to a website purporting to run the giveaway. That page asks visitors vying to bag free booze for their personal information, such as names, email addresses, and phone numbers, which is all collected by miscreants.

    Continue reading
  • Interpol anti-fraud operation busts call centers behind business email scams
    1,770 premises raided, 2,000 arrested, $50m seized

    Law enforcement agencies around the world have arrested about 2,000 people and seized $50 million in a sweeping operation crackdown of social engineering and other scam operations around the globe.

    In the latest action in the ongoing "First Light", an operation Interpol has coordinated annually since 2014, law enforcement officials from 76 countries raided 1,770 call centers suspected of running fraudulent operations such as telephone and romance scams, email deception scams, and financial crimes.

    Among the 2,000 people arrested in Operation First Light 2022 were call center operators and fraudsters, and money launderers. Interpol stated that the operation also saw 4,000 bank accounts frozen and 3,000 suspects identified.

    Continue reading
  • Now Windows Follina zero-day exploited to infect PCs with Qbot
    Data-stealing malware also paired with Black Basta ransomware gang

    Miscreants are reportedly exploiting the recently disclosed critical Windows Follina zero-day flaw to infect PCs with Qbot, thus aggressively expanding their reach.

    The bot's operators are also working with the Black Basta gang to spread ransomware in yet another partnership in the underground world of cyber-crime, it is claimed.

    This combination of Follina exploitation and its use to extort organizations makes the malware an even larger threat for enterprises. Qbot started off as a software nasty that raided people's online bank accounts, and evolved to snoop on user keystrokes and steal sensitive information from machines. It can also deliver other malware payloads, such as backdoors and ransomware, onto infected Windows systems, and forms a remote-controllable botnet.

    Continue reading
  • Emotet malware gang re-emerges with Chrome-based credit card heistware
    Crimeware groups are re-inventing themselves

    The criminals behind the Emotet botnet – which rose to fame as a banking trojan before evolving into spamming and malware delivery – are now using it to target credit card information stored in the Chrome web browser.

    Once the data – including the user's name, the card's numbers and expiration information – is exfiltrated, the malware will send it to command-and-control (C2) servers that are different than the one that the card stealer module uses, according to researchers with cybersecurity vendor Proofpoint's Threat Insight team.

    The new card information module is the latest illustration of Emotet's Lazarus-like return. It's been more than a year since Europol and law enforcement from countries including the United States, the UK and Ukraine tore down the Emotet actors' infrastructure in January 2021 and – they hoped – put the malware threat to rest.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022