US media on edge after web attacks

By Nikhil Kumar

Experts detect military-style cyber raids on two of America's biggest newspapers by Chinese hackers.

The New York Times website was hacked the day it published an article on the hidden wealth of China's Premier, Wen Jiabao. Photo / Thinkstock
The New York Times website was hacked the day it published an article on the hidden wealth of China's Premier, Wen Jiabao. Photo / Thinkstock

There are growing fears about Chinese cyber attacks on Western media outlets after two of America's largest newspapers said Chinese hackers had infiltrated their computer systems.

Hours after the New York Times said Chinese hackers had targeted its computer network over the past four months, the Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, said it too had been the subject of similar attacks.

A statement from Dow Jones & Co, also owned by News Corporation, said: "Evidence shows that infiltration efforts target the monitoring of the Journal's coverage of China." It added that hacking attacks "related to China [coverage] is an ongoing issue".

Earlier, the New York Times said it had faced repeated hacking attacks as it prepared a story tracing the hidden riches of the family of Wen Jiabao, the country's Premier.

The revelations came just weeks after Chinese authorities forced a New York Times reporter to leave the country.

Two months after the paper's Shanghai bureau chief, David Barboza, authored the account of the billions amassed by Wen's relatives, Beijing refused to renew a visa for his colleague Chris Buckley. In a story on its website, the paper said that as Barboza was working on the piece, hackers had broken into its systems and cracked passwords for every employee. They broke into the email accounts of Barboza and the paper's India-based South Asia bureau chief, Jim Yardley, who has previously reported from Beijing.

"Security experts hired by the [New York] Times to detect and block the computer attacks gathered digital evidence that Chinese hackers, using methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese military in the past, breached the Times' network," the paper said.

Last year, hackers who according to past diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks were linked to the Chinese military, infiltrated European Union computers, accessing the emails of Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, according to the Bloomberg news agency.

The attacks on the New York Times first came to light when the story on the Wen family's finances, which used public records to estimate that the Premier's relatives "have controlled assets worth at least US$2.7 billion [$3.2 billion]", was published on October 25. Warned of "consequences" for its investigation, the paper asked AT&T, the telecoms firm which monitors its computer network, to keep an eye out for unusual activity. AT&T detected hacking activity the day the article went up on the New York Times website.

According to the paper, the hackers sought to hide their tracks by launching their attacks from computers based at US universities which they infiltrated at the outset. Mandiant, a security firm hired by the paper, has noted a similar modus operandi in other attacks traced back to China. It remains unclear how the hackers broke into the network, although they are suspected of sending emails to staff that contained malicious links which, when clicked, install software that can be used to siphon off internal information.

China has denied any role in the hacking.

Major breaches

Hackers in China have also been accused of:

* Major cyber attacks between 2006 and 2011 targeting 72 organisations including the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations and security firms
strong>* Compromising personal email accounts of hundreds of top US officials, military personnel and journalists
strong>* Stealing the personal data of 35 million South Koreans in 2011
strong>* Seizing "full functional control" of computers at Nasa in 2011
strong>* A "significant" cyber attack on defence firm Lockheed Martin in 2011
strong>* Breaching Coca-Cola's systems in 2009 while it was trying to buy China's Huiyuan Juice Group
strong>* Hacking Pentagon computers in 2007.

- Independent

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