On August 3, the Syrian Electronic Army hacked into Reuters’s blogging site and published a fake interview with a Syrian rebel leader, saying his troops were withdrawing from the city of Aleppo following devastating loss of life.
As Aleppo has been a center of the struggle between the Syrian military and the rebel forces, such a retreat would mark a major defeat for the rebel forces. As such, the hacking of Reuters was an attempt to manipulate a reputable news source in order to demoralize the Syrian government’s opposition.
Propaganda and the use of disinformation have been tools of war and statecraft for millennia. Tyrants from Napoleon to Hitler to Mao have relied on their ability to spread their own propaganda to stay in power. The Internet is simply the newest medium for such activity, and the Syrian government has demonstrated that Internet media can be manipulated by autocratic regimes.
However, the implications of this attack are significant. The ability of the Syrian government to hack into the blog of a reputable news entity empowers rogue regimes by giving them a credible venue for the dissemination of their propaganda. Moreover, these attacks undermine freedom of the press by reducing people’s ability to have faith in the news they read.
As the role of the Internet and cyber technology continues to develop, it is inevitable that it will play a role in modern warfare. As such, it presents a challenge to all free nations, which must defend both security and liberty online. This points to the importance of increased vigilance on the part of the American public against Internet hacking.
Ultimately, the case of Syria demonstrates that, in the interest of maintaining a free and reliable press, it is increasingly necessary to guard against the manipulation of the news by rogue states.
Maura Cremin is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.