Chinese hackers attacked one of the biggest and most respected U.S. newspapers, The New York Times, on its computer systems, breaking in and stealing the passwords of high-profile reporters and other staff members.
The attack took place over the past four months, beginning during an investigation by the newspaper into the wealth reportedly accumulated by relatives of the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao.
Experts hired to detect and block the cyberattacks found digital evidence that Chinese hackers breached The Times’ network using methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese military in the past.
The attackers used malicious software (malware) to gain entry to any computer on the network. The malware was identified by computer security experts as a specific strain associated with computer attacks originating in China. More evidence of the source was that the attacks started from the same university computers used by the Chinese military to attack United States military contractors in the past.
"They broke into the e-mail accounts of its Shanghai bureau chief, David Barboza, who wrote the reports on Mr. Wen’s relatives, and Jim Yardley, The Times' South Asia bureau chief in India, who previously worked as bureau chief in Beijing", Nicole Perlroth reported for The New York Times.
Nicole further explained that the timing of the attacks coincided with the reporting for a Times investigation, published online on Oct. 25, that found that the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, had accumulated a fortune worth several billion dollars through business dealings. According to CNN, this investigation infuriated Chinese authorities, who responded by blocking access to The Times' website in mainland China.
"The Times' English and Chinese language websites remain blocked in mainland China, as do those of Bloomberg News, which in June published a report on the business interests of relatives of Xi Jinping, who is now the country's top leader", Jethro Mullen reported for CNN.
The same cyberattack was also reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday saying that its computer systems also had been infiltrated by Chinese hackers. "The hackers were monitoring the newspaper's China coverage", a written statement from Paula Keve, chief communications officer for parent company Dow Jones & Co.
"Tapping reporters' computers could allow Beijing to identify sources on articles and information about pending stories. Chinese authorities in the past have penalized Chinese nationals who have passed information to foreign reporters", said the Journal.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Geng Shuang condemned allegations of Chinese cyberspying. "It is irresponsible to make such an allegation without solid proof and evidence. The Chinese government prohibits cyberattacks and has done what it can to combat such activities in accordance with Chinese laws." he said. He said China has been a victim of cyberattacks but didn't say from where. A separate statement from the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said the country's military "has never supported any hacker activities".
"In the wake of two major U.S. newspapers reporting cyberattacks by China-based hackers, the Pentagon now is pushing to expand its cyber-security forces", Bob Orr reported for CBS News. He further explained on "CBS This Morning" Friday that the U.S. military's so-called Cyber Command will grow five-fold over the next few years, from 900 employees presently to nearly 5,000 civilian and military personnel. The Obama administration is also considering more assertive action against Beijing to combat a persistent cyber-espionage campaign it believes Chinese hackers are waging against U.S. companies and government agencies.