Cyber Attack on Journalists, News Services Worldwide by Government Hackers

Cyber Attack

Two internet security experts Morgan Mayhem and Shane Huntley presented a paper at the Blackhat Conference Asia 2014 that described a pattern of cyber attacks worldwide on journalists and news services from government hackers.  A set of attacks by the Vietnamese government with its poor human rights record reported on by the AP in February illustrated patterns of intense pressure applied on activists by repressive regimes, in this case on Vietnamese who are activists, bloggers and public journalists.

They faced sophisticated dirty tricks in these cyber attacks, beginning when they opened emails containing malware. Through this breach Vietnamese government officials, and also government-sponsored agents, tracked information and then captured passwords from sources with personal information. While official Vietnamese government shut-downs of websites are defended as directed against figures disseminating harmful, inappropriate material or information hostile to the government.

Cyber attack on journalists, news services worldwide from government hackers takes several paths. A different strand of work done by others in service of the same goals but engaged in defamation involves blocking, hacking and spying by a shadowy pro-government army of cyber warriors. These cyber attacks threaten democratic movements through disruption and control of ability to distribute information.

Morgan Marquis-Boire, a researcher at University of Toronto and an online privacy activist, examined the malware used in Vietnam and published his findings. There are campaigns against Vietnamese voices of dissent in many regions. The pressure against those people who report on those voices has increased.” according to Marquis-Boire.  A researcher at University of Toronto and an online privacy activist , he examined the malware used in Vietnam and published his findings. According to Marquis-Boire “It’s unlikely that this is the work of an opportunist individual.”

In 2010 Google and McAfee first asserted that malicious software was used to spy on tens of thousands of web users.  This has launched a new period of dedicated research on the prevention of cyber attack through malware distribution.  Many malware viruses are not detected by commercial virus software.

In many instances government cyber attack begin with suppression of dissent through challenges to internet accessibility.  In one especially clever malware introduction, a company survey was the medium in which an email account was hacked, and thereby a whole network. News media has been rather slow in adapting to the increasing threats posed to their security. Increasingly they will have to do so.

Google follows instances of state actors that attack Google users.  Using dashboards, matrices and widgets they examine counts and transmission and consider cyber attacks. They follow sources of emails, with some improved tools for tracking them and identifying details of sources even if hidden. The worst penetrations are followed by agents taking over a website and disrupting networks with misinformation. Syrian forces tend to try and embarrass US government by publicizing its cyber attack. Hacking campaigns against the New York Times and Washington Post were sponsored by the Chinese government.

Cyber attack on journalists, news services worldwide from hostile government hackers create a climate of fear. Transparency means knowing how data is being accessed: the tools and the concepts need to be the subject of meaningful exchange on cyber attack that includes sharing of information about what the government is thinking about in terms of transparency: who has what information and why.

By Lawrence Shapiro


Associated Press

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