According to Google security experts , 21 out of the top 25 news outlets in the world have been the targets of hackers, that may be sponsored by states. Google software engineers, Morgan Marquis-Boire and Shane Huntley, note that journalists represent a large proportion of the victims of hacking attacks.
In his presentation at the hackers conference in Singapore, Huntley said that news media and journalists are more likely to be targets of hackers, regardless of the region in which you operate. In interviews with Reuters, the researchers declined to offer more details, but revealed that major outlets such as the Financial Times, the New York Times, and Forbes Media outlets have been victims of attacks in the last year. They have also revealed that a major news outlet has been a victim of hacking attacks that originate from China, and the actual numbers are much higher than has been revealed.
The concern for online privacy has been heightened and Google has noticed that journalists increasing the use of email encryption, along with services that safeguard privacy such as Tor, which was developed primarily for protecting government communications. The attacks they noticed were put in motion by people who may be working for governments, as Google has the ability to track attacks that originate from state-sponsored entities. Several of the top news outlets use Google for hosted email, and Google also owns the website VirusTotal that analyzes content for the presence of malware.
In the past year, several U.S. news organizations have acknowledged being attacked by a group known as the Syrian Electronic Army, which is a group of hackers that support the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad. The Chinese hackers gained access to the US news outlet using phishing techniques, that encouraged users to enter credentials at fake websites.
According to the Google experts, the hackers have targeted attacks on news outlets, which have been on-going over the last year, and are perpetrated not only against journalists, but persons with interest in Vietnamese human rights. Many of the attacks, involved sending infected email attachments disguised as valid documents. The hackers appear to target journalists , bloggers, and even smaller news organizations around the world. Although the pattern has not been identified, researchers say the attacks are not random, and there have been attacks on journalists in Ethiopia and in Morocco.
The methods used are not new, but it appears that hackers believe that there may be some solid relationship between the media and governments. One of the reasons cited why journalists and news outlets are often the victim of state sponsored attacks, is for intelligence gathering. The suspected government or state wishes to learn what the western media really knows and thinks about them, and who and what the sources may be.
Security experts say that there are some groups that target specific sectors, such as the media, but the problem is that news outlets have been slow in recognizing the problems. The research indicate that some of the news outlets that hackers have targeted in recent times, have been CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Written By Dale Davidson