At approximately 8 pm Hong Kong time on Thursday, the main page of leading pan-Asian news website Asia Times was taken down by suspected Turkish hackers. Though interior pages on the domain were still accessible, visitors to the main page were redirected to an image of children waving a Turkish flag behind a caption referencing Gaza and Palestine.
Beneath the caption was an insignia emblazoned with the Turkish word Akincilar, which translates as “Raiders,” a moniker used by a group linked to cyberattacks targeting Dutch websites last March.
The cyberattack on Asia Times, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, also targeted the English-language website of The Times of Israel – Israel’s largest news group by circulation. The Balfour Declaration, issued in 1926, was the first public statement issued by the British government in support of the establishment of a Jewish state in what was then an Ottoman territory.
Asia Times’ Tel Aviv-based IT partner RGB Media identified the hackers as a Turkish group known in the Israel cyber community. RGB was able to remove the image posted by the hackers and restore the website within hours of the attack.
As the pro-Palestinian message referencing Gaza aligns with official Turkish policy, some, including Asia Times columnist David Goldman, suspect links between the hacker and Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s administration.
The March attacks targeting Dutch websites posted pro-Turkish and anti-European texts on at least one website along with a photo of Erdogan, according to a report in NL Times. The message displayed reportedly read: “Hey Europe, you often talk about democracy, human rights and freedom. But your fear of ‘Great Turkey’ shows your colonialist, racist and fascist crusade mentality and shows your true face.”
The attacks on Dutch websites coincided with a diplomatic incident involving the Netherlands and Turkey, stemming from Turkish efforts to hold political demonstrations – on Dutch territory – in support of a pro-Erdogan referendum. The Netherlands subsequently placed travel restrictions on Turkish officials who were promoting the referendum.
As David Goldman writes, today’s attack on Asia Times and The Times of Israel comes as Turkey’s relationship with the West deteriorates and amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis with the United States.
“Both sites were defended by top-of-the-line Israeli cyber-security systems, which would indicate that the hack was conducted only with the resource of a state intelligence service,” said Goldman.
The image on Asia Times’ main page included a verse from the Quran written in Turkish, Arabic and English reading, “And they wronged us not — but they were [only] wronging themselves.”
In response to the attack, one manager from RGB Media told Asia Times that “this is a cyberwar, and we are fighting.”