Turkish Group Might Be Behind White House Hacks, Analysts Say

Kostas Tsironis/AP

Forensics specialists trace malicious emails to a webpage associated with supporters of the Islamist organization.

A Turkish hacker organization might be behind a campaign targeting White House personnel who strategize digital outreach, according to forensics researchers.

Three staffers have had their personal Gmail accounts overtaken by intruders, who have since sent about a dozen other media strategy employees forged emails capable of poaching Gmail or Twitter logins, individuals familiar with the situation say. The messages contain fraudulent links for legitimate news articles that require recipients to enter their Gmail or Twitter credentials for access. The hackers then scoop up the victims' usernames and passwords. 

The actual Web address hiding beneath the genuine-looking news links bears the markings of an apparent Islamic activist dubbed SeRDaR, according to cyber forensics firm CrowdStrike. 

The actor is tied to an organization called 1923Turk-Grup, an allusion to the year before Turkey's secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dissolved the centuries-old Islamic state.

On Monday, another Islamic group, the pro-regime Syrian Electronic Army, breached Thomson Reuters' Twitter account to blast political cartoons supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

"Given some of the tactics, techniques and practices of groups like Syrian Electronic Army it would not be out of character for a hacktivist group from Turkey to be targeting" White House communications, under aliases "pointing to potential Islamic ideology driven agenda,"  CrowdStrike Vice President of Intelligence Adam Meyers said. CrowdStrike also employs former FBI top cyber cop Shawn Henry and Dmitri Alperovitch, an investigator who uncovered several allegedly Chinese-sponsored cyberespionage operations.

The researchers traced the malicious link to an IP address -- the unique code for each device on the Internet -- for a webpage that SeRDaR is suspected of defacing in the past. 

But Meyers cautioned that "the hacked page is somewhat circumstantial to the activity you are observing."

One concern is that a cyberassault on White House social media strategists could allow the broadcast of market-moving information through official government channels. 

The Syrian Electronic Army briefly brought down the Dow by hijacking an Associated Press Twitter feed to report explosions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. NPR.org, Sky News Arabia, the Onion, and global smartphone directory TrueCaller also allegedly have fallen victim to the same group's messaging. 

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