Around 3:30 pm today, the Twitter account for Skype (@skype) issued the following tweet (re-tweeted by @AnonyOps):
The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of Syrian youth who use their knowledge and skills to disrupt websites from the West, mainly spread denial of service attacks and alter prominent media or commercial outlets. The group maintains that media outlets and politicians in the West are promoting false stories about what’s happening in Syria.
Since the groups’ first hack in 2011, the members have led very public DNS attacks against several organizations, including The Onion, a gmail account for President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action campaign, and even the New York Times.
At times, these attacks have had an overt political message. For instance, when the group took control of Organizing for Action’s gmail account, a link to a propaganda video about the United States’ capabilities to mount warfare upon other states appeared on YouTube. Also, members of SEA disrupted the Associated Press account to report that Obama had been injured.
The latest disruption by SEA through the hacking of Skype’s Twitter account, represents an thematic effort to disseminate political messages about companies in the West engaging in questionable practices.
Since Edward Snowden’s disclosures to Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian in May of 2013, the stream of news regarding mass surveillance by not only the American government, but also corporations like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook have become daily news stories, tweets, blog posts, and so forth.
As someone who began researching surveillance in late 2012, once I learned about the tracking technologies and surveillance practices of certain websites, I became increasingly suspect with engaging or interacting within certain virtual spaces.
In July of 2013, I deleted (not “deactivated” but deleted) my seven-year-old Facebook account. I realized that hundreds of tracking technologies were tracking me across the web, and Facebook was one of them. Facebook used my data to turn a profit.
I have also started the process of moving my personal email account from gmail to the hush email platform.
While I also use a host of alternative sites for tracking the trackers, what concerned me most about the tweet by SEA rested with my connection to my university email account.
Recently, Bowling Green State University upgraded their communications system, including the email system, to Outlook 360. While I have had concerns over the design of the mail system, which my friends can attest to, I have long wondered if my university email meta-data was being tracked in some way.
If there is any truth to the tweet sent by the SEA (and, I do give weight to this tweet given news reports on mass surveillance and tracking technologies), then I find myself in a state of limbo. As much as I am moving away from mainstream technologies that use tracking devices, and as much as I align myself with supporting Internet freedom from mass surveillance, I am still contracted to perform a job, a service, and most importantly, complete a degree. All while, my meta-data, along with tens of thousands of other BGSU faculty, staff, students, and alumni may potentially have their email data tracked and sold.
What to do?