Visitors to the Army website were presented with messages stating, "Hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army" and alleging, "Your commanders admit they are training the people they have sent you to die fighting."
In a statement, the Syrian Electronic Army claimed the defacement was enabled by targeting the Limelight Networks content delivery network. "The SEA was able to intercept the content paths after discovering an exploit in the contron [sic] panel that [provided] the ability to edit the protected content paths," the hackers stated.
Army Brigadier General Malcolm Frost, chief of Army public affairs, acknowledged the breach in a statement provided to The Guardian. "After this came to our attention, the Army took appropriate preventive measures to ensure there was no breach of Army data by taking down the website temporarily," he said.
Contrast Security CTO Jeff Williams told eSecurity Planet by email that the Army website defacement is considerably more disturbing than the recent breach at the IRS. "In the Army breach, attackers defaced the website, and so people will evaluate the severity based on what they did," he said. "But we should evaluate the severity based on what they COULD have done."
"In this case, the hackers had access that would've allowed them to do much more serious damage," Williams said. "They could have used their access to install malicious software that attacks users of the website, installs malware in their browser, or to escalate their attack [to] more sensitive army systems. We are lucky they weren't a little more malicious or creative."
Williams said the military should expect many more attacks in the coming years. "While I suspect that the response will largely be focused on the threat, with calls to go after the attackers and attack back, that's the cyber equivalent of bombing a desert," he said. "A much more productive approach will be to focus on defense and detection, and instrumenting visibility into the military software infrastructure."
"There isn't a quick fix here, but to stay a cyber superpower, we have to do a lot better," Williams added.
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