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Analysis of leaked logs from Syria's censoring national firewall


Syria's brutal Assad government uses censorware from California's Blue Coat System as part of its systematic suppression of dissent and to help it spy on dissidents; 600GB of 2011 logs from Syria's seven SG-9000 internet proxies were leaked by hacktivist group Telecomix and then analyzed by University College London's Emiliano De Cristofaro.

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Paintings of life in Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital


Molly Crabapple writes, "With the exception of Vice News, ISIS has permitted no foreign journalists to document life under their rule in Raqqa. Instead, they rely on their own propaganda. To create these images, I drew from cell-phone photos an anonymous Syrian sent me of daily life in the city. Like the Internet, art evades censorship."

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Moving, effective video about kids in war

I was moved to tears by Save the Children's video, which is powerful and beautifully made. I donate to Syrian relief through the UN High Commission on Refugees.

Author Neil Gaiman visits a Syrian refugee camp

"We woke up every morning glad we were alive, and went to sleep every night knowing we might not wake in the morning. There are so many ways to die in Syria now," a refugee named Yalda told author Neil Gaiman, during his visit to a camp in Jordan. "Their relatives have been imprisoned, gone missing, been murdered and killed in explosions," he writes in a Guardian essay.

Syria's lethal Facebook checkpoints

An anonymous tip from a highly reliable source: "There are checkpoints in Syria where your Facebook is checked for affiliation with the rebellious groups or individuals aligned with the rebellion. People are then disappeared or killed if they are found to be connected. Drivers are literally forced to load their Facebook/Twitter accounts and then they are riffled through. It's happening daily, and has been for a year at least." Anyone have any corroboration for this?

Doc film on surveillance seeks fund to film Syrian activist subjected to state surveillance

Charles Koppelman writes, "Zero Day (working title) is a documentary film being produced and directed by Charles Koppelman. BBC Storyville is co-producing and intends to air it. The film begins with the story of a single malware attack by the Assad regime in Syria using Skype as a platform. This targeted phishing attack used a Remote Access Tool (Xtreme RAT) to infect an activist’s computer. He was then tracked surreptitiously by security forces. He suffered very real physical consequences — detention, jail, and torture. His jailers showed him a file with hundreds of pages of email, web posts and surveillance reports on his movements. It is well-documented that he was the first Syrian activist to be attacked in the ongoing cyberwar conducted by the Assad regime. The Assad regime uses this same digital surveillance tool to compromise countless other activists and citizen journalists."

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Detailed analysis of Syria's network censorship with logs from Blue Coat's surveillance boxes


In Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF], researchers from INRIA, NICTA and University College London parse through 600GB worth of leaked logfiles from seven Blue Coat SG-9000 proxies used by the Syrian government to censor and surveil its national Internet connections. They find that the Assad regime's censorship is more subtle and targeted than that of China and Iran, with heavy censorship of instant messaging, but lighter blocking of social media. They also report on Syrians' use of proxies, Tor, and Bittorrent to evade national censorship. It's the first comprehensive public look at the network censorship practiced in Syria.

Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF] (Thanks, Gary!)

Ukraine government sends text to protesters: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance"


Ukraine's dictatorship is revelling in its new, self-appointed dictatorial powers. The million-plus participants in the latest round of protests received a text-message from the government reading Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.

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Leaked trove of 55,000 photos detail brutal torture and killing of 11,000 Syrian detainees

A Syrian defector who worked for the regime as a forensic photographer leaked over 55,000 photos detailing the deaths of at least 11,000 people, almost all young men, believed to have been political prisoners who were in custody of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The photos were validated by a trio of globally recognized human rights lawyers with experience at the International Criminal Court. One of the lawyers, Professor David Crane, did an interview (MP3) with CBC Radio's As It Happens in which he compared the photos of the bodies to the pictures that emerged from the Nazi's death camps; saying that they were emaciated to the point of death and showed evidence of brutal torture. The photos came to light on the eve of a fresh round of peace-talks between the Assad regime and the various rebel factions in Syria.

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Sen. John McCain played 'VIP Poker' on his iPhone as colleagues debate bombing Syria

Making the media rounds as America formalizes a decision to go to war against Syria, this photo by Melina Mara at The Washington Post:
Senator John McCain plays poker on his IPhone during a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing where Secretary of State JohnKerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testify concerning the use of force in Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Tuesday, September 3, 2013.

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Britain denies selling "nerve gas chemicals" to Syria after civil war began

The Sunday Mail claims that a British company was given an export license to sell chemicals to Syria that could be used to make chemical weapons. The government says the licenses were revoked, the chemicals never made it to Syria, and that they could not be used for that purpose in any case. [BBC]

United Nations to brief press on Syria Saturday, 12:30pm ET

Reuters reports that the U.N. will be holding "an extraordinary press briefing at 12:30 pm EDT on Saturday," which will be webcast (webtv.un.org).

NYT public editor on skepticism over NYT's past US war coverage

Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, writes about skepticism surrounding the paper's Syria coverage given the paper's shameful role in the run-up to the Iraq war. It's a thoughtful piece, with only one quote that suggests itself as an easy target for snark: NYT managing editor Dean Baquet's. “The press’s coverage of Iraq always lurks in the background. But it was a long, long time ago.”

German pundits on Syria: 'Humanitarian wars are also wars.'

"Humanitarian wars are also wars. Those who jump into them for moral reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers can send a message and demonstrate conviction, but they cannot decide the outcome of a war. Neither can a "we'll see" bombardment. There has to be a strategic motivation behind the moral one, and it demands perseverance." The business daily Handelsblatt, from a roundup of German pundits in der Spiegel.

Transcript of Obama’s remarks on Syria--“limited, narrow act” under consideration

President Obama says he is considering a “limited, narrow act” against Syria, but has not made a final decision on a possible military attack following the Syrian government's reported use of chemical weapons against civilians. Full transcript at CNN.com.

A brief history of US military intervention in Syria: "The Baby and the Baath-water"

At BBC News, Adam Curtis has a compelling look at how the US intelligence and military services have botched regime change and justice-by-bombs in Syria, over the past 65 or so years.

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Report: U.S. had intel on Syria's chemical attack before it happened

Foreign Policy reports that American intelligence agencies "had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people," which set the stage for what now appears to be a likely U.S. military strike on Syria. "What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?"

As US weighs possible strikes, Syria's largest city goes offline

As the U.S. government continues weighing the possibility of military intervention in Syria, there are reports that the largest city in Syria has lost all internet access. "Aleppo, a city in Northern Syria that has been the site of intense fighting between rebel forces and the Assad regime, and the surrounding area" appear to have gone offline last night/ Andrea Peterson at the WaPo has technical details and context.

Transcript of Secretary of State Kerry’s remarks on Syria, Aug. 30

Today, US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered these remarks at the State Department on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. It seems likely that the US will soon launch air strikes against Syria, in retaliation. [WaPo]. Here's the video. [CSPAN].

Here are the US and UK intel and legal docs on Syria

At CNN.com, the documents released by the United States and United Kingdom which "outline their legal position and a summary of their intellgence assessment on the alleged chemical weapon use by the Syrian government."

Some historical context for America's next bombing campaign

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect points out that nearly every American president eventually bombs something. And on average, we've bombed another nation at least once every 40 months since 1963. "If you're wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go." [via MoJo]

British MPs vote against Syria action

The government was defeated 285 to 272.

Obama: Syria Strike Will Have No Objective

“Let me be clear,” he said in an interview on CNN. “Our goal will not be to effect régime change, or alter the balance of power in Syria, or bring the civil war there to an end. We will simply do something random there for one or two days and then leave.” Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker.

US will initiate missile strikes on Syria 'as early as Thursday' to 'send a message'

Quoting unnamed officials within the Obama administration, NBC reports that a military assault against Syria could be launched “as early as Thursday.” The US is organizing an "international response" to the suspected use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against civilians.

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Death and the Mainframe: How data analysis can help document human rights atrocities

Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees.

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How many people have died in the Syrian civil war?

In the fog of war, it's not easy to figure out how many people die. Even in the cleanest combat, accurate records are not really a common military priority. Worse, there are often incentives for one side or the other to play up the death counts (or play them down), alter the picture of who is doing the killing and who is dying, and provide evidence that a conflict is getting better (or worse).

All of that creates a mess for outside observers who want to see accurate patterns in the chaos — patterns that can help us understand whether an evenly matched war has turned into a bloodbath, or a genocide. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group is an organization that takes the messy, often conflicting, information about deaths in a warzone and tries to make sense of it. Today, they released an updated version of a January report on documented killings in the Syrian civil war.

They say that there were 92,901 documented deaths between March 2011 and April 2013. That number is extremely high, and tragic. But the number alone is maybe not the most important thing the data is telling us.

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Anatomy of a state-sponsored phishing attack: how the Syrian Electronic Army hacked The Onion

As I blogged earlier this week, the Syrian Electronic Army hacked The Onion's Twitter account and used it to post a bunch of dumb messages attacking Israel, the US, and the UN. Now, the Onion's IT administrators have posted a detailed account of how Syrian hackers used a series of staged and careful phishing attacks to escalate from a single naive user's email credentials to the password for the Onion's social media accounts.

Once the attackers had access to one Onion employee’s account, they used that account to send the same email to more Onion staff at about 2:30 AM on Monday, May 6. Coming from a trusted address, many staff members clicked the link, but most refrained from entering their login credentials. Two staff members did enter their credentials, one of whom had access to all of our social media accounts.

After discovering that at least one account had been compromised, we sent a company-wide email to change email passwords immediately. The attacker used their access to a different, undiscovered compromised account to send a duplicate email which included a link to the phishing page disguised as a password-reset link. This dupe email was not sent to any member of the tech or IT teams, so it went undetected. This third and final phishing attack compromised at least 2 more accounts. One of these accounts was used to continue owning our Twitter account.

At this point the editorial staff began publishing articles inspired by the attack. The second article, Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels, angered the attacker who then began posting editorial emails on their Twitter account. Once we discovered this, we decided that we could not know for sure which accounts had been compromised and forced a password reset on every staff member’s Google Apps account.

I'm impressed by the cleverness of triggering a "password reset" message from the IT team, then sending out fake password-reset messages to users who aren't on the IT team to get them to click on yet another link. Most of the recommendations the IT team make are pretty bland ("educate your users"), but these two reccos are good:

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No internet for Syria

Nicole Perlroth: "Syria’s access to the Internet was cut on Tuesday. The most likely culprit, security researchers said, was the Syrian government." [NYT]

Onion gets hacked by Syrian propagandists, responds with funny article


The Onion got hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, who proceeded to send out a bunch of tweets that could have been mistaken for actual Onion tweets making fun of the sort of thing that Syrian propagandists would tweet if they hacked the Onion's Twitter (see after the jump for the full list). But no, they actually did get hacked.

The Onion responded by putting up a post called Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels, which matches the Assadists' bluster and is much funnier:

DAMASCUS, SYRIA—After hacking into The Onion’s Twitter account earlier today, members of the Syrian Electronic Army confirmed that the organization simply wanted to have a little fun before soon dying at the hands of rebel forces. “We figured that before they bust in here and execute every single one of us, we might as well have a good time and post some silly tweets about Israel from a major media outlet’s feed,” said a spokesperson from the pro-Assad group, adding that he and his cohorts “had a few good laughs” and are now fully prepared for their painful and undoubtedly horrific deaths in the coming days. “I mean, we definitely don’t have much time left, so we thought, hey, let’s just enjoy ourselves before getting blown away by rockets, decapitated, beaten to death, or hung during public executions. Why not, right?” At press time, violent screams and pleas for mercy were reportedly overheard as rebel troops broke into the Syrian Electronic Army’s hideout.

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Where does Assad's online army come from?

Syria's brutal Assad regime has damned few allies left in the world, but one of them, Russia, is governed by a dirty-tricking ruling elite who've made a science out of manipulating Internet opinion. This may explain the weird, stilted pro-Assad astroturf army who appear in any discussion of the regime's atrocities to explain that it's all a Jewish conspiracy.

And on like that. SyriaTribune maintains a YouTube channel stocked with clips from — surprise — Vladimir Putin’s Russia Today portraying Assad as the victim of a bloody-minded western conspiracy. A self-described French intellectual named Thierry Meyssan — author of 9/11 The Big Lie — reveals that TV images purporting to show Assad’s massacres of civilians were prepared by the CIA, along with White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, and “aims at demoralizing the Syrians in order to pave the way for a coup d’etat.” The #FakeRevolution hashtag on Instagram provides pictorial, meme-filled boosterism for Bashar, like a screengrab from Time’ app kindly telling user mybubb1e to stop voting for Assad for Person of the Year or Hillary Clinton with flames shooting out of her eyes and ear, courtesy of Bashar4Ever.

Meet the Assadosphere, the Online Defenders of Syria’s Butcher [Spencer Ackerman/Wired]