Cyber hackers linked with a group that calls itself the "Iranian Cyber Army" launched an attack against the Voice of America's web site on Monday, the Broadcasting Board of Governors said in a statement. VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN), which beams television programming into Iran, was also hit with satellite interruptions. PNN is popular on social media sites like Facebook as well as YouTube.
The cyber attacks come in the wake of massive protests in Egypt, Libya and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in the aftermath of the departure of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is now under fire to step down, as government leaders around the world denounce his country’s bloody attacks on protestors. At the same time, two Iranian naval vessels have traveled through the Suez Canal en route to Syria, marking the first time since the ‘80s that Tehran has sent military ships through the canal, passing Israel along the way in a possible bid to provoke the country.
The hackers into VOA “briefly displayed an image of the Iranian flag and a gun on Monday, as well as a screed urging U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ‘stop interfering in Islamic countries," Fox News, sister network to Fox Business, reported.
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton appeared on BBC America last week, expressing her firm support for Iranian opposition supporters protesting in Tehran. While the Iranian Cyber Army is not officially connected to the government in Iran, the government-controlled Fars News Agency indicated that the group had hacked into the VOA site as well as its affiliated websites, including those in other languages.
"The move came in response to the false reports released by the VOA and other websites on the spread and progress of seditious moves in Iran," Fars said in a statement, noting that the Voice of America "acts as a complementary and media arm of the U.S. spy agencies."
Fars News also said in the statement that “VOA and its affiliates have long been supporting anti-Islamic Republic groups and sought to provoke unrests [sic] in Iran.”
Fars also reported that “Iran's Cyber Army said it has hacked the main VOA web site as well as 95 other web sites affiliated to the VOA,” adding that “the hackers have left the following message on the VOA web site: ‘Mrs. Clinton, Do you want to hear the voice of the oppressed nations?’"
The board for VOA said cyber hackers hacked into Voice of America’s primary domain name (VOANews.com), and then redirected visitors to another web site claiming to be run by the "Iranian Cyber Army," Numerous related domains registered with Network Solutions were also hacked into, and web visitors were also redirected to the web site supposedly run by the “Iranian Cyber Army.”
The Broadcasting Board of Governors for Voice of America said these attacks are par for the course.
“As popular protests unfold across the Middle East, U.S. international broadcasting faces increased satellite signal interference, as well as web Domain Name System (DNS) attacks,” the board said in a statement.
It added that since February 13, there have been intermittent but frequent cyber attacks that have interrupted satellite signals of VOA's Persian News Network and Radio Free Europe's Radio Farda. Both of these stations beam news and entertainment programs in the Persian language into Iran, notes Public Policy Matters.
The statement from VOA’s Board also said that since February 21, “there has been a continuous service interruption on one satellite channel carrying VOA’s PNN. PNN is carried on three other satellite paths as well as online including a popular TV satire, ‘Parazit.’”
The board added: “Millions of the show’s fans use proxy servers to access the program through social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. In the last month, Facebook recorded more than 20 million impressions on Parazit’s page.”
The statement quoted Walter Isaacson, chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which oversees all U.S. international broadcasting including the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE). Isaacson said: “Our broadcasters are at the forefront of reporting the most tumultuous events we have seen unfold since 1989,” adding, “It is a testament to their vital role that they are subject to the work of hackers and signal interference.”
Dana Perino, former press secretary for President George W. Bush and a member of the BBG, as well as a Fox News contributor, said in the statement: “The fact that the sites were redirected to the Iranian Cyber Army certainly raises an eyebrow or two.” Perino added: “Technology is chipping away at the stranglehold on free and fair information inside Iran. VOA News is strongly committed to providing the news at it happens in a variety of ways so that every Iranian that can get access to the free media can benefit from our journalists' reporting.”
The board noted there was no breach of internal systems or servers, and “no data was lost or compromised as a result of this event.” It added that an investigation is underway to determine who is responsible.