AMMAN, Jordan – The pro-Syrian government hacking group, the Syrian Electronic Army, has taken credit for an attack on the social media accounts of Internet calling service Skype.
Messages accusing Microsoft, Skype's parent company, of passing along user data to governments were posted Wednesday on Skype's official Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as a Skype blog.
"Don't use Microsoft emails (hotmail,outlook), They are monitoring your accounts and selling the data to the governments.More details soon #SEA," read one tweet, since deleted.
The Syrian Electronic Army also posted on its Twitter account what it said were the contact details for outgoing Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, saying, "You can thank Microsoft for monitoring your accounts/emails using this details. #SEA."
Commenting on the attack, the group said on its Facebook page, "In continuation of our electronic war that we started in defense of the borders of our homeland ... the command of the SEA declares its success in hacking Microsoft ... and finding many documents that prove Microsoft's selling of information and passwords for Hotmail and Outlook and other accounts to government in exchange for large sums of money." [Link in Arabic]
Skype, which regained control of the accounts the same day, acknowledged the hack in a tweet saying, "You may have noticed our social media properties were targeted today. No user info was compromised. We're sorry for the inconvenience."
The Syrian Electronic Army has primarily targeted organizations that it deems to be against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad -- including media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press -- describing itself as a "group of enthusiastic Syrian youths who could not stay passive towards the massive distortion of facts about the recent uprising in Syria."
This attack, however, appeared to be a response to allegations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that Skype cooperated with a U.S. surveillance program that collected Internet communications from Google, Microsoft, Apple and other major American companies.
Last month, Microsoft was among eight technology companies that met with President Obama to demand sweeping changes in the way the U.S. government collects information on citizens.
Skype has been a mainstay of communications among opponents of the Syrian government and is often the only way to reach activists, largely because of the widespread belief that the service is secure. The hack has some activists worried about the privacy of their Skype chats and video calls.
"I have no alternative so far," said Susan Ahmad, an opposition activist reached via Skype in Damascus. "I was once told about a new software. I'll check and start to use it if it's safer, and if it works well."
However, an activist from the opposition Sham News Network in the northern Syrian city of Raqqah dismissed concern that pro-government forces might be able to intercept Skype communications.
"Don't worry about it," said the activist, who uses the traditional nickname, Abu Bakr. "Since they cannot shut down our accounts, it means they can't do anything."