Harvard site back online after “sophisticated” defacement | SC Media
Threats, Cybercrime

Harvard site back online after “sophisticated” defacement

September 27, 2011

The home page of Harvard University is functioning normally after it was defaced Monday morning by activists in support of the embattled regime in Syria.

"We took down the site for several hours in order to restore it," a statement from the Cambridge, Mass. college said. "The attack appears to have been the work of a sophisticated individual or group."

But considering defacements have been commonplace on the web for more than a decade, some experts questioned whether the attack could be considered advanced.

"Adjectives like 'sophisticated' are always relative to the people looking at it," Jeremiah Grossman, founder and CTO of WhiteHat Security, told SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday. "Defacements have been around for 15 years. You don't use your most sophisticated, coolest stuff to deface Harvard's web page. If [the cause] was an unpatched web server, I'm not calling that sophisticated."

Kevin Galvin, a Harvard spokesman, declined to discuss with SCMagazineUS.com how the attack was orchestrated or why Harvard was targeted.

"Recent months have seen a rise in frequency and sophistication of these attacks, with hacking groups increasingly on the offensive and targeting news media, government and education websites," the statement said.

Grossman said he is dismayed that the victims of many of today's breaches often cite skillful intruders as the culprits, even though the large majority of compromises are conducted with relative ease. But he also said he understands that taking this PR tactic, that there was little a targeted organization could do to stop the attack, helps to save face.

"[In Harvard's case], all their readers, all their alumni...they're not going to know the difference [between sophisticated and unsophisticated]," Grossman said. "I think it's the same marketing people. It's the same PR people rotating around. Maybe they went to the same conference."

According to reports, Harvard's site was compromised by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army. The site temporarily included scrawl featuring picture of the country's flag and a photo of President Bashar el-Assad, whose government has faced mostly peaceful opposition since an uprising began in March, though some now fear the demonstrations could turn increasingly violent in the coming weeks because no change has occurred.

The defacement also accused the United States of supporting a "policy of killing" in Syria, and threatened revenge.


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