As The Washington Post put it Tuesday, "The Syrian Electronic Army actually makes a lot more sense if you think of them as pranksters who also happen to love Assad than as state-aligned hackers in pursuit of concrete goals." Such a description may account for the Bieber tweet, for the defacing of FIFA's Twitter feed as noted in a recent article at The Verge and for the attack on, of all things, the satirical news website The Onion.
Shawn Henry, former Executive Assistant Director for the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, told ABC News another explanation is that other, less-committed actors may have tagged along with the group and claimed affiliation.
Either way, Henry, current President of CrowdStrike Services and CSO, said the claim that the SEA hacked into the domain registrar for the Times, essentially a lesser-known point on a supply chain that gave them access to the Times and others, shows a certain level of sophistication and pre-planning that's more advanced than the average hackivist.
He also warned the tactics could change any time – from the choice of targets to the damage done.
"So far this has been disruptive, but we've also seen groups in the not too distant past be disruptive in a way where they're destroying data," he said. "I think anytime you have access to a network and are able to make changes to it, that's something that people should be concerned about."