Hacktivists with the Syrian Electronic Army (briefly) meddled with Facebook’s domain on Wednesday night, according to recent reports.
The pro-Assad hacking crew claimed to have gained access to an administrative panel at DNS provider MarkMonitor and altered the registrant contact details to point towards Damascus and a Gmail address under the control of the SEA.
The unauthorised change would have been the first step in a hack that could have progressed towards making further unauthorised changes, for example hijacking surfers trying to visit Facebook.com and pointing them towards a propaganda site instead.
However, The Register notes that it appears the hack was detected before it got to this stage and that MarkMonitor was able to regain control of the domain on behalf of its client.
Stopping the attack while it was still in progress will have been a win for the defenders. It appears that at all times traffic was pointed towards the legitimate nameservers for Facebook.com.
Changes displayed on MarkMonitor’s systems were detected and blocked before any changes to the database of Verisign, the main registrar for the .com top-level domain, re/code reports.
Nonetheless the SEA boasted that "Facebook.com [was] owned by #SEA" as a result of its latest high jinks.
The hacktivists further boasted through their official @Official_SEA16 account that they found themselves in a situation where they could have potentially altered domain records belonging to Yahoo!, Google and Amazon. These internet giants (in common with Facebook) all reportedly use MarkMonitor for their DNS services.
"The real challenge in these situations is that the design and protocols of the internet were not designed to defend against malfeasance," writes Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos Canada.
Although best known for hijacking the social media profiles of media organisations, the SEA also has form in DNS hijacking attacks. Last August the SEA hacked Australian firm Melbourne IT in order to get at The New York Times and Twitter.
The recent DNS hijack against eBay and PayPal, as well as the unsuccessful attack against Facebook, could be more effectively combated by DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions), according to security experts such as Wisniewski and others.
Digitally signing a domain with DNSSEC would prevent DNS hijacks, the argument goes.
"We must bootstrap the internet into modern times by taking things like DNSSEC seriously," Wisniewski argued. "Stealing someone's password or convincing an innocent customer service representative you are someone else should not be sufficient to take over someone's online identity."
Facebook and MarkMonitor did not respond to requests for comment. We'll update if and when they do. ®