Chinese Hackers Target Major U.S. Media Outlets

2012-04 BIZ China Illustration H IPAD

The dominance of western brands in China has long been a sore spot for the country's leaders. Chinese authorities have begun to take greater notice -- and umbrage.

The computer networks of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reuters and Bloomberg have been breached by groups linked to the Chinese government.

Hackers believed to be allied with the Chinese government have attacked several of the United States' leading media companies, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and Reuters, the Journal reported late Thursday.

The FBI has been probing media hacking incidents for over a year and believes the attacks have been carried out by one Beijing-based group, presumably as part of a coordinated effort to monitor U.S. investigative reporting of Chinese issues.

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The Journal report follows a New York Times story printed Wednesday, revealing that the Times was the repeated target of Chinese hackers for the past four months, and that the corporate passwords of every Times staff reporter were stolen in the breach.

"It's part of this overall story that the Chinese want to know what the West thinks of them," the Journal quoted Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer with the computer-security company Mandiant Corp., as saying. "What slant is the media going to take on them? Who are their sources?"

The Journal story revealed that the paper has been the subject of repeated hacker attacks emanating from China over the last few years. In the most recent incident, the FBI notified parent company Dow Jones of a potential breach in mid-2012. The Journal said it was then discovered that a hacker group had entered the company’s system via computers in their Beijing bureau and quickly infiltrated the paper’s global network.

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The Journal’s Beijing Bureau Chief, Andrew Browne and Jeremy Page -- a reporter who worked on stories about the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai – were both targets.

Bloomberg News said Thursday that it has been subject to Chinese hacking attempts. And a spokesperson for Thompson Reuters said its global news service was hacked twice in August.

The Journal added that its sources for China stories have occasionally dropped out of communication after details revealing their identities were disclosed in emails. Hacking into investigative reporters’ email accounts could give Chinese authorities a look at who is providing information to the press, giving the State a leg up on addressing potentially damaging news leaks. The Journal said its China editorial staff now assumes they are being monitored at all times and work to protect sources with appropriate discretion.

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"The Communist Party really fears information and they can see their control unraveling as people read about corruption and officials with huge bank portfolios," cyber specialist James Lewis told the Journal. "Information is an existential threat to these regimes."