By Stephen C. Webster
Unknown members of the hacker collective “Anonymous” reportedly broke into the private email account of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad this week and learned that the embattled dictator is not one much for electronic security.
That’s because he picked the second-weakest password around: “12345,” according to documents published by Israeli news magazine Haaretz. Security researchers say the only password that’s weaker is “password.”
The “12345″ password was not just on al-Assad’s computer: documents show it was also used by several others in the Syrian Ministry of Presidential Affairs, accessed by “Anonymous” this week.
Emails allegedly obtained from 78 inboxes revealed the government’s messaging strategy ahead of al-Assad’s recent interview with U.S. journalist Barbara Walters. During that interview, Walters called al-Assad a “dictator by accident” who’s really a “mild mannered ophthalmologist.”
Emails revealed by “Anonymous” showed that many of his lines were rehearsed, and that he gave canned responses about violence in the country and their refusal to allow foreign journalists in.
The Walters interview took place shortly after the United Nations estimated that Syrian death squads had killed over 4,000 protesters in demonstrations against al-Assad, including over 300 children.
That toll has risen to more than 6,000 as of Feb. 7, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 15,000 have been severely injured, the group estimates, and approximately 1,000 Syrian soldiers have died in the fighting, which many see as a burgeoning civil war.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the interview “either says that he’s completely lost any power that he had within Syria — that he’s simply a tool — or that he’s completely disconnected with reality.”