The New York Times reported today that a team of hackers from China have been attacking the New York Times for the past four months, hacking into their network. The attacks began when Times published an investigation in October involving relatives of China's Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao.
The article focused on the enormous accumulated wealth of the family and was published in both English and Chinese. The email account of David Barboza, The Times' Shanghai bureau chief, who wrote the reports on Wen's family, was broken into. Jim Yardley, the Times' bureau chief of India also had his account compromised.
Security experts at Mandiant, hired by the Times, found evidence that links the hackers to the members of the Chinese military by association. Additional evidence found that the attacks were initiated from computers used by Chinese military in previous attacks on United States military contractors. "Computer security experts found no evidence that sensitive e-mails 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.
To gain access to the personal computers of 53 off-site Times employees, hackers used stolen corporate passwords. No evidence was found indicating that the hackers used these passwords to look for information relating to the Wen family article. No data about subscribers of the Times was stolen and experts at Mandiant believe that the main purpose of the infiltration was to seek information related to the Wen. "The attackers' movements suggested that the primary target remained Mr Barboza's email correspondence", the Times reported.
"Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security. To accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without solid proof is unprofessional and baseless," Times reported China's Ministry of National Defense as saying, when asked about the origin of the attack having possible Chinese military link.
In a similar incident last year, Bloomberg News was the victim of a cyber-attack when an article about the accumulated wealth of the relatives China's vice president at the time, Xi Jinping, was published. Chinese hackers appear to target western journalists in retaliation for published articles viewed as besmirching to the global reputation of Chinese leaders.