Syrian Electronic Army shanghais Microsoft's Twitter account, blog

Saturday's hack follows hijack of Skype's social media channels two weeks ago

A group that bills itself as the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) claimed credit for grabbing control of a pair of Microsoft company Twitter accounts and the firm's primary blog for a short time Saturday.

Microsoft regained control of the Twitter accounts within hours, deleting the rogue tweets and scrubbing the unauthorized posts from its blog.

"Targeted cyberattacks temporarily affected the Xbox Support and Microsoft News Twitter accounts and the Official Microsoft Blog," a company spokesperson confirmed Monday. "The accounts were quickly reset and we can confirm that no customer information was compromised."

It was the second successful attack against Microsoft's social media presence this month. Two weeks ago the SEA hacked Skype's Twitter account, blog and Facebook page. Skype, a popular video calling, instant messaging and Internet phone service, was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion.

The SEA is a loose collective of hackers who profess loyalty to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is conducting a brutal war to suppress opposition groups. The group regularly targets Western websites, companies and human rights organizations with site defacements and redirects, denial-of-service attacks, and embarrassing commentary from shanghaied social media accounts.

Although some believe the SEA is supported or even controlled by Assad and his government, security researchers have found no smoking gun to connect the two. Assad has praised the SEA's work in the past, however.

Most of the SEA's hacking activity has been rapidly corrected by their victims, but the defacements and unauthorized tweets have been embarrassing, if only because they point to security issues. It's believed that the SEA gain access to websites and social media accounts by tricking employees into divulging credentials with phishing campaigns.

"Don't use Microsoft emails (hotmail, outlook)," the SEA wrote on the hijacked Microsoft News account, one of two the group controlled Saturday. "They are monitoring your accounts and selling the data to the governments."

The SEA also posted images it claimed were of Microsoft internal emails related to the weekend attack, including one allegedly from Steve Clayton, the Microsoft manager of its official blog and Twitter account, to several Microsoft public relations staffers, including Frank Shaw, who heads all corporate communication at the Redmond, Wash. company.

In the purported email, Clayton named bitly, the URL shortening service, as the "backdoor that has been found."

Microsoft declined to answer questions about how the SEA was able to access the emails it claimed were from Microsoft employees.

According to the RSS feed of Microsoft's blog, the SEA published 20 posts before Microsoft regained control. All read, "Syrian Electronic Army was here," much like the WWII-era graffiti "Kilroy was here" once proclaimed.

SEA screenshots
The Syrian Electronic Army published screenshots of what it claimed were internal Microsoft emails about its hack of the company's Twitter accounts. (Image: SEA)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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