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New York Times says Chinese hackers broke into its computers
From: Erica Absetz <eabsetz () opensecurityfoundation org>
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2013 12:39:13 -0500


Hong Kong (CNN) -- The New York Times says that Chinese hackers have
carried out sustained attacks on its computer systems, breaking in and
stealing the passwords of high-profile reporters and other staff

According to The Times, one of the biggest and most respected U.S.
newspapers, the cyberassaults 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

The reports on Wen's family members, alleging they had amassed
financial holdings worth billions of dollars through business
transactions, infuriated Chinese authorities, who responded byblocking
access to The Times's website in mainland China.

The Times said in an extensive article dated Wednesday that it had
worked with computer security experts to monitor, study and then eject
the attackers. It said that by following their movements, it aimed to
"erect better defenses to block them" in the future.

The newspaper said that the security experts it used to counter the
attacks had accumulated "digital evidence that Chinese hackers, using
methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese
military in the past, breached The Times's network."

2011: What Chinese hackers look for

Asked about The Times's allegations on Thursday, a spokesman for the
Chinese Foreign Ministry said that "all such alleged attacks are
groundless, irresponsible accusations lacking solid proof or reliable
research results."

China has been the victim of cyberattacks and "has laws and
regulations prohibiting such actions," the spokesman, Hong Lei, said
at a regular news briefing.

A separate statement from the Chinese Ministry of National Defense
said the country's military "has never supported any hacker

China-focused journalists targeted

According to The Times, the intruders hacked into the email accounts
of its Shanghai bureau chief, David Barboza, the reporter on the
controversial articles about Wen's relatives' wealth, and Jim Yardley,
the New Delhi bureau chief who had previously covered China.

"What they appeared to be looking for," the Times article said, "were
the names of people who might have provided information to Mr.

But the security experts hired by the newspaper "found no evidence
that sensitive emails or files from the reporting of our articles
about the Wen family were accessed, downloaded or copied," said Jill
Abramson, executive editor of The Times.

The investigators gathered evidence that the hackers obtained the
corporate passwords for every Times employee, using them to break into
the personal computers of 53 employees, most of them outside the

With the level of access the intruders had gained, senior editors at
the newspaper were reportedly worried that they might attempt to
disrupt the news organization's publishing systems, notably on the
night of the U.S. presidential election in November, when it said the
attackers were especially active.

"They could have wreaked havoc on our systems," Marc Frons, the
Times's chief information officer, said in the newspaper's report.
"But that was not what they were after."

There was no evidence the hackers used the passwords they obtained to
pursue information not connected to the Wen family investigation, The
Times said, adding that no customer data were stolen.

The Times said it informed and "voluntarily briefed" the FBI about the attacks.

An angry reaction last year

At the time of the publication of the initial Times report on Wen's
family in October, Chinese authorities called it an attempt "to
blacken China's image," saying it had "ulterior motives."

It came at a particularly sensitive time in China, a matter of weeks
before the start of the ruling Communist Party's 18th National
Congress, at which the country's next set of leaders was announced.

The Times's 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 new top leader.

The Chinese government tries aggressively to control the flow of
information inside its borders about sensitive topics like unrest in
Tibetan areas and criticism of senior officials. It strictly manages
the output of domestic news media outlets and has a history of
shutting off access to international news websites.

Chinese authorities have blacked out the broadcast signal for
international television stations like CNN and the BBC when they have
aired sensitive reports about the country.
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