In rapid succession, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journaland the Washington Post revealed that they were the victims of cyber attacks that originated in China. In the case of the New York Times, the attacks began in late October, when the paper started reporting about the multi-billion dollar fortune accumulated by the family of the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao. Working with security experts, the Times discovered evidence that Chinese hackers were responsible and that they were using methods associated with the Chinese military. The hackers reportedly stole the corporate passwords for every Time’s employee and used them to gain access to the personal computers of employees. Among the targets were the paper’s Shanghai bureau chief and the former Beijing bureau chief, but there was no evidence that sensitive email files were affected.
The Wall Street Journal disclosed a day later that it also had fallen victim to Chinese hackers, who were trying to monitor the company’s coverage of China by breaking into the paper’s network through computers in its Beijing bureau. From there, the hackers then reportedly infiltrated the paper's global computer system.
The Washington Post made public that it dealt with a similar situation that it remediated at the end of 2011. It appears that those cyber attacks, which started as early as 2008 or 2009, targeted the Post’s main information technology server and several other computers. This allowed the hackers to compromise sensitive administrative passwords, giving them potentially wide-ranging access to the paper’s systems before the computers were taken offline and enhanced monitoring was put in place to prevent a recurrence.
Bloomberg LP and Thomson Reuters PLC have also reportedly fallen victim to cyber attacks over the summer. Google disclosed in 2010 that Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists were hacked and investigators were able to trace the source to two educational institutions in China, including one with ties to the Chinese military.
An interesting wrinkle in the response to the attacks is that companies took the extremely unusual step to engage the United States government
by handing over servers
to the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense.
While Chinese government officials vehemently deny
the allegation that this was a state-sponsored or –sanctioned activity, China’s cyber-espionage assists the government’s broader efforts to quell internal dissent by identifying activists and dissidents and tracking them through their e-mail. "Evidence shows that infiltration efforts target the monitoring of the Wall Street Journal's coverage of China, and are not an attempt to gain commercial advantage or to misappropriate customer information," Paula Keve, a spokeswoman for the paper’s publisher, said. Grady Summers, a vice president at computer security company Mandiant, said that in general, Chinese government hackers “want to know who the sources are, and who in China is talking to the media. They want to understand how the media is portraying them, what they’re planning and what’s coming.”