WASHINGTON -- It's a battle between one of the nation's largest newspapers and what is suspected to be a group of hackers supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, and for the moment at least, the hackers appear to be winning.
The New York Times website was down for large parts of Tuesday after being hacked in an attack for which the group known as the Syrian Electronic Army took credit, and was down again as of 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
Users trying to access www.nytimes.com received a message saying the server could not be found. The news organization set up a bare-bones alternate site, where readers could view some news stories. A message on the New York Times Twitter feed directed readers to that site and routed story links posted on Twitter there as well.
Some users trying to access the main nytimes.com website saw a small text at the top of their screen with the initials "SEA." Similar problems occurred with the newspaper's site earlier in August.
In a short note on its alternative website, the Times apologized for the main site's inaccessibility Tuesday, calling the disruption "the result of an external attack on our domain name registrar."
Other media organizations, including Twitter and the Huffington Post were also affected by the attack.
Meanwhile, the @SyrianElectronicArmy Twitter handle claimed credit for the attack, writing on Twitter, "Hi @Twitter, look at your domain, its owned by #SEA :)" and posting an image of the site's domain name history, which showed the SEA as the main contact for the company.
The attackers succeeded by hacking into MelbourneIT, the Australian Internet company responsible for many domain names. The hackers accessed the user name and password of the MelbourneIT staffer handling the NYTimes.com account, and were able to log in to the company's servers.
"The SEA went after the company specifically to create a high-profile event," Chief Executive Theo Hnarakis told Reuters. "This was quite a sophisticated attack."
The outage apparently caps what has been a months-long attack by the SEA on U.S. and British media outlets, some more serious than others.
The SEA took credit for hacking the website of the Washington Post on Aug. 15, the Twitter account of Thomson Reuters in July and the Twitter feeds of the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times newspapers. It also is believed to have sent out false information on Twitter about explosions at the White House, which temporarily caused a drop in the stock market.
Meanwhile, on Twitter last night, the SEA claimed victory.
"Viva Syrian Arab Army, Viva Bashar Al-Assad... Long live #Syria! #SEA," its Twitter account read.