FBI Wary of Syrian Cyber Attacks

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is urging the public to keep alert and watch for malicious online behavior as the world watches the unfolding situation in Syria. New cyber threats are emerging that could impact the daily lives of millions of Americans.

Cyber-attacks against the United States have not caused death or destruction, but the outcome is often disruption.

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) is a pro-regime hacker group that has been compromising high-profile media outlets in an effort to spread propaganda, according to the FBI. The SEA hacked the Associated Press' Twitter account in April claiming that President Barack Obama was injured in a White House explosion. The fake tweet sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting and caused a brief moment of chaos before the AP hack was discovered.

SEA also shut down the New York Times website in August and defaced a US Marines recruitment website earlier this month.

"If getting their message across and installing fear in the population was their goal, then they have done that," said cyber conflict analyst Ryan Maness.

Maness is a University of Illinois-Chicago lecturer who recently co-authored Cyber Conflict in the International System: Threats, Realities, and Restraint. His research shows rival nations launched 28 major cyber-attacks against the US government and companies that handle national security matters between 2001 and 2011.

According to some analysts, there are indications that Iranian groups are supporting the SEA. But it remains unclear if the SEA has the backing or capabilities to knock out a power grid or steal government secrets.

"For the most part, number one, you need to have the funding of a state to really have those malicious attacks that can do actual, physical harm," Maness said.

The Chicago Police Department said the city works closely with its federal partners to prepare for cyber-attacks.

Financial institutions are often targeted by overseas hackers. Websites for Bank of America, Chase and Citigroup are among those hit since September, 2012.

Technology security companies are taking more steps to protect their clients' network security.

Karl Volkman of Chicago-based SRV Network, Inc. said a cyber-attack on a major telecommunications corporation could cause chaos.

"Where's their biggest bang for the buck? It's the larger corporations that we all interact or use or the internet in some fashion," Volkman said.

Volkman recommends having a backup plan in case everyday resources, including your cell phone service, is compromised.

"Keep doing what you're doing right now to protect yourself from hackers. Good anti-virus, good protection data. Don't put your information out on the Internet, but second, realize that potentially something can be impinged upon," Volkman said.

The Department of Homeland Security said it is closely following the situation and sharing information with local governments to address cyber threats.

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