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"Iranian Cyber Army" sets its sights on Twitter

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, December 18 2009

For at least an hour yesterday, Twitter was brought low by a group calling itself the "Iranian Cyber Army" in what might be ready as either a strike at how the communications platform was used to organize and publicize Iran's post-election protests this summer, or a more direct hit at how officials at the U.S. State Department called on the San Francisco-based company to bypass a planned downtime to aide Iranian protestors. The website of the Iranian opposition group Green Wave of Freedom was similarly hacked.

The attack, it seems, involved redirecting the DNS records of Twitter.com to point to a homepage that, according to the BBC, read in English translation, "USA think they controlling and managing internet by their access, but they don't, we control and manage internet by our power." (One way to think about how DNS redirects work is to think of tweaking phone company records so that instead of, say, 867-5309, ringing at Jenny's house, it rings at Susie's. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone commented on the episode on the company blog by writing that, "Twitter's DNS records were temporarily compromised tonight but have now been fixed.")

For a time during the attack, Google's search result for Twitter, reported TechCrunch, seemed to even more directly tie the DNS action to the contact this June between State Department Policy Planning Staff staffer Jared Cohen and Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey where Cohen, it seems, encouraged Dorsey not to go through with a scheduled maintenance period during the Tehran protests. "In the name of God," read the Google search result squib, "As an Iranian this is a reaction to Twitter’s interference sly which was U.S. authorities ordered in the internal affairs of my country…"

The Hillary Clinton-led State Department's technology-empowered 21st Century Statecraft Initiative has been getting a lot of press attention lately, and the State Department has attempted to frame the new approach to global engagement as coming from an open-ended desire to foster conversations and collaborations. During the June Twitter affair, a State Department spokesperson said, "We are proponents of freedom of expression. Information should be used as a way to promote freedom of expression."

It's clear that at least some of those who don't appreciate America's aims in the world see its involvement in social media as something potentially very political indeed. Twitter -- and the State Department -- might want to take it as a badge of honor that their nascent efforts are able to elicit such a targeted response as yesterday's episode. That said, if outfits like Twitter are going to be major players on the world stage, they might want to think about doing a better job of protecting their DNS. (Photo credit: Dalantech)