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Why Chinese Hackers Might Be Targeting U.S. Media

Why Chinese Hackers Might Be Targeting U.S. Media
February 3, 2013 8:36AM

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"The New York Times attack -- which apparently is tied to an investigation into the massive accumulation of wealth by one of China's most powerful officials, with the not-so-subtle suggestion that these were ill-gotten gains -- suggests a cause and effect coupled with an unprecedented level of cover-up," said analyst Rob Enderle. "If true, that would be ironic."

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If the revelation that Chinese hackers infiltrated computer systems at The New York Times -- and stole passwords for employees -- was not disturbing enough, The Wall Street Journal followed up with troubling news of its own.

Indeed, The Journal reported that it also had been hacked. And the paper also pointed a finger at Chinese hackers trying to monitor the publication's China coverage.

The Journal reports that hackers broke into its network through computers in its Beijing bureau. A spokeswoman for Dow Jones & Co., the newspaper's publisher, said the Journal performed a network overhaul to beef up security Thursday.

"Chinese hackers for years have targeted major U.S. media companies with hacking that has penetrated inside newsgathering systems, several people familiar with the response to the cyberattacks said. Tapping reporters' computers could allow Beijing to identify sources on articles and information about pending stories," The Journal said. "Chinese authorities in the past have penalized Chinese nationals who have passed information to foreign reporters."

China Denies Attacks

The New York Times attack is related to China, The Times believes, because of the timing. The attacks came as the paper published an investigative report about the relatives of China Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Printed Oct. 25, the report detailed how his family had amassed a fortune worth several billion dollars.

"It's part of this overall story that the Chinese want to know what the West thinks of them," Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer with the computer-security company Mandiant Corp., which was hired by The New York Times to investigate its breach, told The Journal. "What slant is the media going to take on them? Who are their sources?"

The Chinese government denies any involvement with the hacks. China's Defense Ministry issued a statement:

"Chinese law forbids hacking and any other actions that damage Internet security. The Chinese military has never supported any hacking activities. Cyberattacks are characterized by being cross-national and anonymous. To accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without firm evidence is not professional and also groundless."

'Would Be Ironic'

Alex Horan of Core Security told us on Thursday that he believed The New York Times was not the only U.S. target. He was right. For more analysis, we caught up with Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. He told us increasingly there is a question of both how active the Chinese military's cyber spying efforts are and who actually controls them.

"The New York Times attack -- which apparently is tied to an investigation into the massive accumulation of wealth by one of China's most powerful officials, with the not-so-subtle suggestion that these were ill-gotten gains -- suggests a cause and effect coupled with an unprecedented level of cover-up," Enderle said.

"Now that could be partially because China doesn't want to appear like a country run by criminals but, if true, that would be ironic because getting caught creates the impression that this is exactly what has happened."

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