The account for a link shortening service connected to the Obama support organization Organizing for Action (OfA) was reportedly compromised today.  Shortened links in President Obama’s Facebook and Twitter postings were in turn briefly redirecting readers to a video with pro-Syrian regime propaganda.  The pro-Assad hacking group Syrian Electronic Army claimed credit for the attack.

From AllThingsD:

A handful of sites affiliated with the President’s campaign organization, Organizing for Action, were compromised by a group of hackers on Monday morning, according to a number of Facebook and Twitter posts sent from the President’s accounts.

Multiple tweets sent from the @BarackObama handle linked to YouTube videos hosted by the Syrian Electronic Army, the hacking outfit claiming responsibility, as well as some links sent through the President’s Facebook fan page. The President’s campaign page was also hacked last night for a matter of hours.

In order to send the false links, the SEA targeted some members of OFA, which manages President Obama’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, along with his campaign efforts. From there, the hackers took over the site’s custom URL shortener, redirecting any links sent out from the President’s social channels to the SEA YouTube links.

As AllThingsD and others have pointed out, this seems the most sensible explanation, as the content of Obama’s social media messages doesn’t seem to have strayed from its typical messaging.  Only the links seem to have been impacted, not necessarily the social media accounts themselves.

In an exclusive email obtained by Mashable, a representative believed to be with the SEA explains the attack was supposedly achieved by gaining access to OfA staffer(s) email accounts.

“All the the links that Barack Obama account tweeted it and post it on Facebook was redirected to a video showing the truth about Syria,” an SEA spokesperson wrote.


It took eight hacked email accounts to pull of this attack, according to the person operating the SEA email address. From screenshots sent by the SEA, it appears the group used information from the hacked email accounts to gain access to two digital service provides — Blue State Digital and URL shortener ShortSwitch — which is how the SEA managed to set up the redirect.

The official SEA Twitter account posted screen shots of the allegedly compromised services.

SEA also posted a tweet containing a screen shot of what it implied was an OfA staffer’s email account.

An OfA staffer earlier offered a comment to the website Quartz:

“We’ve taken measures to correct it,” says Suzanne Snurpus. “And we’ve all changed our passwords and added an extra layer of login security.” That “extra layer” is Google’s two-step authentication, which helps prevent unauthorized logins by linking an email address to an existing cell phone number.

Snurpus says she isn’t sure what damage the hackers managed to do before they were detected and shut down, but today all the shortened links in Obama’s Twitter account (with 39 million followers) managed by Organizing for Action were for a time redirecting to a video created by the Syrian Electronic Army. It’s not clear what, if any, sensitive information the SEA was able to access by hacking into the email accounts of volunteers for a not-for-profit campaign organization, even if it’s associated with Obama.

In a tweet from Sam Stein of the Huffington Post, an OfA representative commented that “An account with our link shortener was hacked. [But] at no point did they have access to the twitter handle.”

Other SEA tweets about the incident can be seen below. (I would not advise clicking on any links in the tweets).

There still seems to be much confusion in the reporting out there on what exactly occurred, as some are reporting that the social media accounts themselves were taken over.  That doesn’t appear to be what I’ve observed thus far, but if anything changes, I will try to update the post with additional information.

Read more about the Syrian Electronic Army here.


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