How The Syrian Electronic Army Boosted Their Traffic By Hacking

1417123017889749A quick flick through imgur’s Popular Pages on SimilarWeb PRO reveals that the URL i.imgur.com/qD53RZY.png was responsible for 0.10% of their traffic in November 2014. It doesn’t sound significant, but there’s an interesting story beneath the figures.

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) hacked a large number of prominent news media sites in response to what they perceived to be Western media claims that innocent civilians had been targeted by Syrian air strikes.

Accessing these hacked sites led to users being confronted with a popup box which redirected to the imgur image – the SEA crest. We decided to take a look at what effect this had on SEA’s homepage traffic with SimilarWeb.

Understanding the SEA Traffic

If we take a look at the traffic to SEA in the 6 months leading up to the November 2014 hack, we can see that SimilarWeb shows an average of 500 daily desktop visits. It’s very small fry in terms of traffic, but what effect would a major news story bring?

6 months sea

SEA traffic between May ’14 – Oct ’14 by SimilarWeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a result of the SEA hack in November we can see that there was an avalanche of traffic from curious users wanting to know who was hacking their favorite sites. The previous daily average of 500 daily visits leaped to 3000 – an increase of 500%!

nov 2014 sea

SEA traffic in Nov’14 by SimilarWeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Did All This Traffic Come From?

Given the nature of the hack it’s no surprise to learn that over 50% of SEA’s traffic in November 2014 came via referral sources. SimilarWeb also shows that Search sources provided nearly 20% and indicates that people were interested in investigating who the SEA were.

Traffic sources for SEA in November '14 by SimilarWeb PRO

Traffic sources for SEA in November ’14 by SimilarWeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we dig a little deeper into the referrals then we can begin to understand how the hack affected traffic.

The top 25 referring sites to sea.sy are dominated by News sites. The hack caused headlines worldwide due to the chaos it caused, so plenty of these referrals are the direct result of press stories on the SEA. People, being curious, would then want to read more on the SEA – hence the high number of referrals form Wikipedia.

However, if we take a look at the list of sites hacked by SEA we can see that many of these sites were News sites. This means that a percentage of their referrals were down to the initial hack on it’s own and not just through publicity from these sites.

SEA_Referrals

Top 25 Sites Referring Traffic to sea.sy

 

Hacking for Traffic

SimilarWeb has demonstrated how the SEA managed to produce a double whammy with their hack.

First, they managed to disrupt the operations of the Western media who they had a grievance with. Sites were left unable to display and caused chaos.

Secondly, the hack produced a higher than normal amount of traffic. This manifested itself in two ways:

  • The hack was an impressive attempt at disrupting a large number of prominent sites, so it became a huge news story
  • Users were redirected to the SEA homepage by the hack or just to discover what their manifesto was

Although hacking is a dangerous game it appears that it can have a huge effect on web traffic. There’s no doubt that SEA will strike again, but after this latest hack they will encounter a whole new set of security measures to. Will they generate so much traffic next time?

About the Author -

Ari is the Sr. Director of Corporate Marketing at SimilarWeb. He has spent the last decade in ad-tech working on the agency side of the business before jumping over to Kenshoo where he launched their marketing activities. He also led the marketing for Adquant, a Facebook ad platform, making it a top 10 Facebook PMD prior to its acquisition.

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