News Corp, owned by Rupert Murdoch, disclosed on Friday that hackers gained access to the company’s email accounts and got access to the information of an unidentified number of journalists. The cybersecurity firm Mandiant stopped the breach, according to Reuters,
The media company’s internet security adviser said the breach was most likely to gather intelligence for Beijing’s benefit.
David Wong, vice president of consulting at Mandiant, said the hackers have “a China nexus, and we believe they are likely involved in espionage activities to collect intelligence to benefit China’s interests.”
The Chinese Embassy’s spokesman in Washington said he was unaware of the specifics of the claims. Still, he hoped “there can be a professional, responsible and evidence-based approach to identifying cyber-related incidents, rather than making allegations based on speculations.”
News Corp said they detected the hack in late January, and it affected emails and documents of a limited number of employees, including journalists.
In a letter seen by Reuters, company executives told their employees that “we believe the activity affected a limited number of business email accounts and documents from News Corp headquarters, News Technology Services, Dow Jones, News UK, and New York Post.” According to the Chinese-language media outlet Aboluowang, the investigation found that the hacking traces could be traced back to as early as February 2020.
The hackers spied on some journalists’ emails and files, such as draft file articles stored in Google cloud. As for user and customer data, neither was affected. HarperCollins Publishers, Move, News Corp Australia, Foxtel, REA, and Storyful were also not targeted in the attack.
News Corp owns several well-known media, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Times, The Sun, and Sky News Australia. Its stock was down 1.3 percent in morning trading due to news of the attack.
The executives said: “Our preliminary analysis indicates that foreign government involvement may be associated with this activity and that some data was taken.”
According to Mike McLellan, the director of intelligence at cybersecurity firm Secureworks, who has followed China-linked eavesdropping on media groups on and off over the past decade, Beijing’s hackers have been targeting Western journalists for years.
He noted that journalists might have significant intelligence sources about China’s foes or domestic opponents. However, the hackers have conducted aggressive cyber espionage against various targets ranging from military secrets to intellectual property. Nevertheless, the media remained a favorite target.
He said: “Journalists—and the things they’re working on—are fairly high on their list of priorities.”
Chinese hackers have been accused of hacking journalists in the United States and worldwide on numerous occasions.
The New York Times, for example, revealed a hack in 2013, claiming that it had affected 53 personal laptops belonging to its employees. The date of the incursions, according to the paper, coincided with its inquiry into the wealth amassed by the family of China’s then-prime minister, Wen Jiabao.
The 2013 breach was the first in a string of simultaneous revelations of similar attacks or attempted intrusions at other U.S. media outlets, including Bloomberg, the Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
In February 2020, amid tense U.S.–China relations, China banned three Wall Street Journal reporters, reportedly retribution for a column headline that the regime deemed racist. The move came after the United States designated five prominent Chinese media outlets as government entities.
On the evening of January 31, FBI Director Christopher Wray accused Beijing of stealing American creative technologies and ideas and launching a large-scale cyber campaign. He emphasized that China’s threat to the West is “more outrageous” and harmful than ever.
The FBI bureau has repurposed terrorist tactics acquired to dissuade China. The measures include the establishment of Cyber Task Forces and Counterintelligence Task Forces in each FBI field office and the formation of a National Counterintelligence Task Force.