Surfers visiting the eBay and PayPal UK websites were redirected to defacement pages instead following a DNS hack for which the Syrian Electronic Army has claimed responsibility.
The hijacking of surfers instigated by the pro-Assad hacktivists only persisted for a short period over the weekend before normality was restored.
The potty-mouthed defacement message that greeted surfers during the brief period of the hijacking can be found in a blog post by veteran security researcher Graham Cluley.
The hacktivists said that the hijack was motivated by eBay's stance on doing business through PayPal with users in Syria – currently in the midst of a civil war. "For denying Syrian citizens the ability to purchase online products, PayPal was hacked by SEA," the hacktivists complained through their Official_SEA16 Twitter account.
The hijacking involved changing entries in the online lookup table that translates PayPal.co.uk to an IP address computers use to route surfing requests. Servers belonging to PayPal, or its owners eBay, were unaffected. There's no suggestion customer information was exposed.
The effects of the hack from eBay's perspective would have amounted to email delivery problems.
The websites of PayPal France and India were also briefly hijacked.
In a statement sent to El Reg, PayPal’s PR director downplayed the significance of the incident:
We were not hacked. For a brief period on Saturday 1 February, a very limited number of people visiting certain PayPal and eBay marketing pages in the UK, France and India were redirected.
There was no access to any consumer data whatsoever and no accounts were ever in any danger of being compromised. The situation was swiftly resolved and PayPal’s service was not affected. We take the security and privacy of our customers very seriously and are conducting a forensic investigation into this situation.
The SEA boasted about the defacement on Twitter through their official account before the micro-blogging service banned the profile. The Syrian Electronic Army’s Official_SEA16 Twitter account was suspended after the hack. But an apparent (though unconfirmed) replacement @official_sea18 has already appeared.
The Syrian Electronic Army is best known for hacking into the social media profiles of media outlets before posting pro-Assad propaganda. The latest victim of this type of attack was CNN, around two weeks ago. Microsoft was hit repeatedly by similar hijinks that affected control of blogs and Twitter profiles associated with properties such as Skype throughout January.
These hacks typically involve multi-part phishing attacks. It's unclear if the same methodology was used to trick PayPal's DNS provider into changing records but it has to be at minimum a strong possibility. ®