Hackers Targeting Journalists and Media Outlets, Google Engineers Report

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Major news organizations are under attack by likely state-sponsored hacking attacks, Google Engineers report.

A speaking event presented at the Black Hat hackers conference in Singapore by two Google engineers, Shane Huntley, and Morgan Marquis-Boire, reported that 21 of the top 25 media outlets worldwide are attacked by hackers. While that is clearly no surprise, the engineers told Reuters that the attacks are likely to be sponsored by foreign governments seeking information.

Not only were media outlets attacked, but journalists were “massively over-represented” as targets, Mr. Huntley reported. Attacks that were launched in support of government operations were found to be specifically targeting journalist.

State-sponsored hacking has progressed over several years. Numerous countries around the world including the US, China, and Russia, are believed to engage in hacking for the gain of information. As Journalists are the source of information, Journalists are prime suspects in these ongoing attacks. The two engineers are reporting that some organizations are just becoming aware of such threats, as cyber security requirements are rising.

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In the past year several large media outlets have been successfully hacked. The pro-Syrian hackers, Syrian Electronic Army, successfully hacked Forbes, Times, New York Time, and many others.

It is reported that nine of the top twenty five media outlets use Google service for email hosting. Huntley detailed one case to Reuters where Chinese hackers gained access to a media outlet by sending fake questionnaires to journalists over email. Most ongoing emails carry malware that redirect to other sites tricking the target to give up credentials. Both the researchers denied to go into detail on how Google analyzes and blocks ongoing threats. They said recipients of such emails using Google’s Gmail service will typically receive a warning message.

Marquis-Boire noted such attacks are nothing new, but the number of attacks was significantly higher than publicly made reports. He also said “This is the tip of the iceberg,” noting a year long attack against journalists interested in a human rights campaign.

Huntley stated while large media outlets always battle hacking attacks, smaller organizations, citizen journalists, and bloggers were also targeted. Both note media outlets are just waking up to such attacks, but noted they are seeing an uprise in website and individual journalist security.

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Brandon Stosh is the founder and CEO of www.freedomhacker.net. Stosh is a cyber security researcher and professional consultant who strives to provide reliable news on cyber-security based topics.

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