Why you should care that the NYT got hacked
The New York Times says Chinese hackers attacked the company for four months. It may be the tip of the iceberg for US employees and corporations.
The New York Times (NYT) made a startling announcement on Thursday: for the last four months, it was under attack from Chinese hackers.
The Grey Lady took a pugilistic stance against the hackers, turning the tables by secretly tracking their movements and creating better defenses. In the end, the paper says, it kicked them out and erected stronger barriers. The attacks started last fall while the Times reported an investigation into the relatives of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, who had amassed a huge fortune.
While it may seem like an isolated event affecting one news outlet, the hacking appears to represent a bigger threat to American companies, its employees and military operations. China is "the most threatening actor in cyberspace," according to a U.S. Congressional report published last year.
The report found that Chinese hackers are shifting into "increasingly advanced types of operations or operations against specialized targets," including U.S. intelligence and military systems. One U.S. intelligence official told Bloomberg News that Chinese hackers had tried to blind or disrupt U.S. intelligence and communication satellites, navigation computers and weapons targeting systems.
Critical U.S. industries such as electric utilities and telecommunications are also under threat, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report found. Just two years ago, hackers with ties to the Chinese military eavesdropped on U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials working in Asia, gaining access to the U.S. trade policy playbook.
In the New York Times' case, its security experts found the hackers stole every corporate password for every Times employee. They gained access to the personal computers of 53 employees, with most of the computers located outside of the newsroom. No customer data was stolen, the paper reports.
So what's the end game for the hackers?
"The intelligence-gathering campaign, foreign policy experts and computer security researchers say, is as much about trying to control China’s public image, domestically and abroad, as it is about stealing trade secrets," the Times writes.
One security expert says that sometimes the hackers are driven by a sense of patriotic duty. "They're basically young, male, patriotic Chinese citizens, trying to demonstrate that they're just as good as everyone else," wrote Bruce Schneier, the chief security technology officer of BT, for Discovery. He added, "My guess is what the Pentagon thinks is the problem is only a small percentage of the actual problem."
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