For a 20th-century-style dictator, Syria's President Assad is pretty tech-savvy – or he's got a team of high-hairlined IT guys. Satphones are dangerous things in Syria now: they get hacked, or even targeted by shellfire. And since democratic protest began a year ago, the regime's trolls have put considerable resources into shutting down or damaging its web-based critics. Their latest tactic: a fake YouTube site.
Trying to stem the flow of information via Twitter and YouTube has been a big concern of the regime. Video footage of violent assaults on peaceful demonstrations – and the army's shelling of packed civilian neighbourhoods in Homs and Idlib – have been key to stoking international protest. A lot of that video emanates from citizen journalists, supplied and trained by Avaaz through the generosity of our members.
The latest tactic from the regime targets people watching these videos. Malware on a very convincing fake YouTube site can download to your computer or smartphone, and send details about you back to what the Electronic Frontier Foundation has identified as a Syrian government-registered IP address. This may not matter much if you are far removed from the conflict – but Syrian activists know that being identified puts them and their families at risk of arrest and torture.
Further reading: How to protect yourself against the Syrian government – and anyone else – conducting a phishing attack on your kit.