Harvard calls defacement a 'sophisticated' hack

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Harvard calls defacement a 'sophisticated' hack

Security vendors calls it PR spin.

The home page of Harvard University was restored after what it claimed was a sophisticated defacement.

"We took down the site for several hours in order to restore it," the univeristy said. "The attack appears to have been the work of a sophisticated individual or group."

But considering defacements have been commonplace on the web for more than a decade, some experts questioned whether the attack could be considered advanced.

"Adjectives like 'sophisticated' are always relative to the people looking at it," WhiteHat Security founder Jeremiah Grossman said.

"Defacements have been around for 15 years. You don't use your most sophisticated, coolest stuff to deface Harvard's web page. If [the cause] was an unpatched web server, I'm not calling that sophisticated."

Kevin Galvin, a Harvard spokesman, declined to disclose how the attack happened.

"Recent months have seen a rise in frequency and sophistication of these attacks, with hacking groups increasingly on the offensive and targeting news media, government and education websites," the statement said.

Grossman said he is dismayed that the victims of many of today's breaches often cite skillful intruders as the culprits, even though the large majority of compromises are conducted with relative ease.

He said it was a PR tactic designed to save face.

"[In Harvard's case], all their readers, all their alumni...they're not going to know the difference [between sophisticated and unsophisticated]," Grossman said.

"I think it's the same marketing people. It's the same PR people rotating around. Maybe they went to the same conference."

According to reports, Harvard's site was compromised by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army.

The site temporarily included scrawl featuring picture of the country's flag and a photo of President Bashar el-Assad, whose government has faced mostly peaceful opposition since an uprising began in March, though some now fear the demonstrations could turn increasingly violent in the coming weeks because change has not occurred.

The defacement also accused the United States of supporting a "policy of killing" in Syria, and threatened revenge.

This article originally appeared at scmagazineus.com

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