Report: “Cyber Attack on the Qatar News Agency: Fake News, Cyber War, and an Attack on International  Norms of Sovereignty” Analysis / Featured

The Qatar-America Institute recently published a report, “Cyber Attack on the Qatar News Agency,” which explores the 2017 cyber attack on the QNA website and social media accounts for use in posting fabricated quotes under the guise of Qatari leadership, which was used as an excuse by some countries to blockade Qatar. The report also discusses what this attack means for the future stability of the Gulf region, and beyond.

Executive Summary

  • Starting April 19, hackers successfully used VPNs, exploits, and malware to penetrate the website, Twitter, and YouTube pages of the Qatar News Agency (QNA).
  • Fabricated quotes from High Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, and Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs were posted on the hacked Twitter page and website of QNA at 12:13am Wednesday May 24, 2017.
  • Traffic logs indicate a spike in visits – anomalous for the late hour – from certain IP addresses in a fellow GCC country in the hour preceding the publication of the fabricated quotes.
  • Immediately after publication, the fabricated quotes became major news in two other GCC countries. Over 20 political figures and senior guests were promptly available – between 1am and 5:30am local time – to discuss the fabricated quotes and criticize the Qatari government on live television in the two countries.
  • Within 45 minutes of the fabricated quotes’ publication, the Qatari government notified regional media broadcasters of the cyber attack and falsity of the quotes. Media outlets in the two other GCC countries, however, ignored the alert and continued broadcasting the fabricated quotes.
  • A week and a half later, certain Arab countries began severing diplomatic relations with Qatar. Their airspace was restricted to Qatari flights, borders were closed restricting food shipments, and access to Qatari news sources was blocked in their countries.