An “unknown entity” has hacked Qatar’s official news agency, and is responsible for publishing a false statement attributed to the Emir, the Government Communications Office (GCO) has said.
QNA’s website was down for several hours after the incident, which appeared designed to harm Qatar’s relationship with its Gulf peers.
Hackers also temporarily took control of the news agency’s Twitter account in the middle of the night.
In Arabic, it posted three tweets purportedly from Qatar’s foreign minister.
It cited him as ordering Gulf ambassadors to leave the country within 24 hours. The tweets also claiming that GCC nations were plotting to discredit Qatar.
Those messages have since been removed, and been refuted as false by officials.
Fake statements from the Emir
Earlier last night, the hackers published a QNA story that carried fabricated quotes from Qatar’s Emir, who spoke at a military graduation yesterday.
The GCO said the report “has no basis whatsoever.” Picked up by Al Arabiya and other outlets, it cited Sheikh Tamim as telling the crowd that Qatar has “tensions” with the new US administration.
الدوحة في 23 مايو /قنا/ شهد حضرة صاحب السمو الشيخ تميم بن حمد آل ثاني أمير البلاد المفدى حفل تخريج الدفعة الثامنة من مجندي الخدمة الوطنية في ميدان معسكر الشمال صباح اليوم. حضر الحفل عدد من أصحاب السعادة الوزراء وكبار المسؤولين العسكريين وقادة القوات المسلحة ووزارة الداخلية والضباط وضباط الصف وأولياء أمور منتسبي الخدمة الوطنية .
The Emir is also falsely quoted as saying that “there is no wisdom in harboring hostility toward Iran” and that relations with Israel are “good.”
QNA’s original story does not contain any of those remarks, however.
Instead, it merely described the graduation ceremony. It began with the National Anthem and included a parade, as well as various military performances.
In terms of comments made by the Emir, it only quoted Sheikh Tamim as hailing National Service training, which first became compulsory for Qatari men in 2014.
One event attendee told Doha News that the Emir did not make any political remarks, and instead focused on congratulating all of the graduates.
In its statement about the hack yesterday, the GCO said that it was investigating the matter. It added that all of those responsible for the breach would be held accountable.
This is not the first time hackers have targeted Qatar.
Last year, more than 1,200 names, phone numbers and bank passwords of Qatar National Bank (QNB) customers were leaked online by an unknown entity.
Qatar has also been the victim of several high profile Domain Name System Services (DNS) attacks in recent years, as well as hacks on social media accounts of big organizations such as Qatar Foundation.
The country has been shoring up its cyber-defenses in recent years. But hackers are also becoming smarter about how they infiltrate their targets.