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Skype Becomes Operations Center for Syrian Rebels

Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Amal Hanano is one of the most recognized names in the Syrian digital underground.  She was an early online voice in the uprising, tracking each battle and connecting across the world on Skype.

Hanano, the alias for a Syrian woman who found an unexpected career as a writer, is one of many activists, rebel fighters -- as well as regime hackers -- who have caught up with a new digital reality: Skype is a new battleground.  Over the 19-month conflict, the Internet has become the operations center for Syria's opposition, as forces fighting the regime use it to plan and document battles, then share information with the public.

"When the uprising began, Skype is what people were familiar with, so Skype is what they used.  Today, it is a communications backbone," said John Scott-Railton, a doctoral student at UCLA and expert on internet freedom.

Hanano estimates there are several hundred private rooms on Skype where access is by invitation only and the conversation unfolds in real time as battles happen.  Many of the rooms are organized by city -- Aleppo, Rastan, Homs and Hama.  By crossing from one to the other, rebel forces can coordinate in ways they have never been able to before.

"Skype is how people in one part of Syria figure out what's happening in another," says Hanano.  "It may not be secure, but it's the only way, and it's where a lot of information first gets out."

Like many Syrian activists online, Hanano adopted an alias to protect herself from a Syrian regime with a history of arresting and abusing bloggers.

"From the first days of the revolution I knew I had to take a stand," she said.

Hanano now lives in the U.S., but still writes under her alias, preserving what has become one of the most recognized names in the online revolution.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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