Syrian conflict breeds rise in malware

Christopher Sewerd In the News

The conflict in Syria is nothing new and has been raging for the past few years. In recent months the conflict has erupted on a massive scale and news programs across the world are filled with atrocities being carried out against the Syrian people and other innocent parties.

Most recently the atrocious killing of US reporter James Foley shocked the world and sickened most to the core at the utter appalling nature in which he was killed.

As technology has spread across the world in the past 10 years we have seen it play an ever increasing role in areas on conflict. With recent large scale evidence of this in both Egypt and Libya showcasing the huge impact technology is playing in such situations. No longer do we need to wait for news updates on the TV when twitter feeds and other such instant media outlets exist. We now live in a digital age in which our consumption of media and news in particular is more instant than ever and unfortunately in many cases such as the atrocity that was the killing of James Foley an unregulated media.

The Syrian conflict has come of age technology wise and sickening videos and images of killings and other propaganda are easily dissipated across the web with relative ease from even the most remote locations. While mainstream social media sites such as Twitter react swiftly to combat such material the awareness of those involved in such conflicts has greatly increased not only by better education inside countries themselves but also due to the large number of western educated citizens who have travelled to those locations to take part in the conflict. Less centralised systems such as Diaspora are now being employed to further propagate such material.

In the past few years email scams and malware have increased on a rapid basis to take advantage of latest events around the world. Use of real world events started small scale in the last decade with such schemes like African 419 scams attempting to use social engineering to part wealthy westerners with cash using stories concocted to coincide with any disaster, world event or news worthy story.

A recent more sinister twist has emerged with conflicts in Syria seeing a huge increase in the amount of Syrian malware being used in a cyber warfare type style. While previous news based scams involved targeting those outside the originating country the new cyber warfare style malware and trojan based operations are concentrating their efforts on effecting those on opposing sides of the conflict.

While the situation itself receives widespread condemnation from around the world the theory behind the use of malware in Syria is rather sneaky from a technical point of view. While high end hacking and intrusion are relatively low the use of social engineering to infect the computers and systems of opposing forces is more widely in use. Groups are making use of lack of user awareness and embedding well known but edited malware in links, social media and other such areas in which users are likely to click without thinking or have the foresight in to what may be lurking on the other side of such a link.

From a purely technological point of view the interesting development in such a spread of malware is the way in which the systems taken under control are being utilised. Just imagine for a moment managing to infect an opposition leader or command base and listen in via the computer microphone or watch live the movements via webcam. Just as we have seen users being spied on in their own houses via tools such as the Blackshades malware the use when seen in areas of conflict could be so much more rewarding for rebel groups.

While groups inside Syria and Iraq are concentrating mainly on securing secrets from opposing groups the increase in malware related to the Syrian conflict that could target unwitting western users is growing in number. With many Syrians around the world and citizens of every country taking an interest in the conflict a simple download of a file claiming to give the latest news or a link to a video that has a latest report could be all it would take to infect your own system.

Like any good computing practise suggests think carefully about files that friends send, links that are posted especially by those you do not know and even ones posted by people you do know which seem off in terms of the way they usually write. If in doubt if a video link is legitimate on social media sites such as Facebook then head to Google and search for the name of the video, does it exist on real video sites such as Youtube? if not question why. Most importantly for news updates on the Syrian conflict and to avoid the possibility of being infected with malware stick to sites that are well known such as CNN in the US and the BBC in the UK.

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