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New York Times website outage raises suspicions of a cyberattack

August 14, 2013|By David Pierson
  • Readers trying to access the New York Times' website Wednesday morning got an error message. The paper, through its Twitter feed, said the site was experiencing "technical difficulties."
Readers trying to access the New York Times' website Wednesday morning… (Screengrab of nytimes.com )

When the New York Times website went dark Wednesday morning, suspicions that it had been the target of a cyberattack were raised immediately.

Those beliefs were seemingly bolstered when Fox Business, citing an unnamed source, reported that the newspaper had been breached.

So far, the New York Times has said little, other than blaming internal "technical difficulties." The paper's website began slowly coming back online shortly after 10 a.m. PDT.

Fox has been criticized in the past for jumping the gun. Last June, the organization mistakenly reported the Affordable Care Act had been overturned by the Supreme Court.

Still, suspecting a cyberattack wouldn't have been a bad bet.

The New York Times revealed earlier this year it had been the subject of attacks from China.

In a report published Jan. 30, the paper said an internal investigation with the help of a cybersecurity firm discovered months of breaches coming from computers used by the Chinese military.

The hackers reportedly stole the corporate passwords for every New York Times employee and even broke into the computers of 53 employees.

One of the reporters targeted was David Barboza, a China-based correspondent who was awarded a Pulitzer prize for investigative reporting for his stories late last year on the vast family fortunes of the then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

The New York Times website has been blocked in China ever since, joining Bloomberg, which has also published lengthy exposes on the wealth of China's political elite.

China has denied state-sponsored hacking.

Cyberattackers have long aimed for military, corporate and financial interests. But media companies have increasingly found themselves in the cross hairs.

The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have both reportedly been breached by Chinese hackers.

In April, the Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for hacking an Associated Press Twitter account and reporting President Obama had been injured in explosions at the White House. The tweet quickly triggered a panic on stock exchanges.

"This is really emerging as a new problem for media," said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence for CrowdStrike, a security firm.

The motivation, Meyers said, is to discover reporters' sources or create wholesale disruption, as in the case of the Associated Press hack.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in February the trend has gone global, with reporters in Asia, the Middle East and Africa also experiencing hacks as a means to censor the press.

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