Syrian hackers break into Skype accounts to accuse Microsoft of spying

Pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army also posts Microsoft CEO's contact details in two-hour attack on Skype's social media accounts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 10:37am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 2:22am

The Syrian Electronic Army hacker group set its sights on Skype’s social media accounts on Wednesday to accuse Microsoft of spying on user data.

Microsoft-owned Skype’s Twitter account displayed the message: “Don’t use Microsoft e-mails (Hotmail, Outlook), they are monitoring your accounts and selling the data to the governments. More details soon SEA.”

It was posted around 10.30am (GMT) but was removed less than two hours later.

Microsoft, which acquired Skype in 2011, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The SEA account belongs to the Syrian Electronic Army, which backs the Damascus government.

In a posting on its own Twitter account, the SEA said, “You can thank Microsoft for monitoring your accounts/e-mails using this details,” and listed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s contact information.

The group has previously hacked accounts of The New York Times, Agence France-Presse and other media organisations.

The SEA’s latest attack appears to be linked to documents released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, which revealed the Prism surveillance programme.

Prism is said to give the NSA and FBI easy access to the systems of nine of the world’s top internet companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.

The programme apparently allowed the NSA to spy on audio and video calls using so-called secret backdoors. Skype has denied the existence of such access.

Tech blogs said that at one point, the Skype blog had the headline: “Hacked by Syrian Electronic Army. Stop Spying!”

Skype’s Twitter account was also said to have posted the message: “Stop spying on people! via Syrian Electronic Army.”

But links provided by the SEA’s Twitter account to Skype’s blog and Facebook account did not work, and no SEA message appeared on those sites around 12.30pm (GMT).

Defectors have said the SEA, which began in 2011 and is widely believed to be backed by Bashar al-Assad’s government, has a secret base in Dubai.

According to a report by The Guardian, which has also been targeted by the group, the hackers are tasked to punish news organisations seen as critical of Assad’s rule and to spread a government-endorsed narrative that the Syrian rebellion is not against a despotic regime but an Islamist plot to help al-Qaeda seize the country.