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New York Times cites 'malicious external attack' in website outage

August 27, 2013|By Paresh Dave and Ricardo Lopez | This story has been updated. See the note below for details.
  • was inaccessible to many users at midday Tuesday. was inaccessible to many users at midday Tuesday.

The New York Times' website would not load for users across the country on Tuesday, the second time this month the website has suffered an outage.

But while the previous downtime was attributed to technical issues raised by a maintenance update, a Times spokeswoman said Tuesday's sporadic outage appeared to be the result of a malicious cyberattack.

[Updated, 1:34 p.m. Aug. 27: The New York Times on Twitter said "The New York Times Web site is experiencing technical difficulties. We are working on fully restoring the site."

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A tweet from Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the paper, said: "initial assessment - issue is most likely result of malicious external attack. working to fix."]

[Updated, 2:10 p.m. Aug. 27: A few minutes after that tweet, the New York Times said in a separate tweet that “we will continue to publish the news. Here is our latest report on Syria: .”

The phrasing of the tweet seemed to suggest that the attack was linked to Syrian hackers.

Darien Kindlund, manager of threat intelligence for cybersecurity firm FireEye, said that the identity of the hackers could not be immediately confirmed.

“However, it would not surprise us if it were the SEA — this would fit their motives,” Kindlund said in an email, referring to the acronym for hacking group Syrian Electronic Army.

FireEye and other cybersecurity firms have long found that denial-of-service attacks are a show of power on the Internet. Though relatively simple to execute, they remain difficult to defend.

“The Times is the most popular news website in America – with 30 million unique visitors each month – so downing it could be a propaganda coup for SEA,” said Kenneth Geers, senior global threat analyst for FireEye.

The attack comes as the U.S. government says it’s prepared to launch strikes in Syria.

Identifying the culprits behind Internet attacks is often difficult because of the relative ease with which they can hide their real address by routing traffic through a Web of networks.]

Tuesday’s technical issue was intermittent, with some users not having any troubles accessing the website. That sort of disparity is associated with a distributed denial-of-service attack, in which a hacker uses virus-infected computers to overwhelm a website with visits. As the website tries to handle the huge demand, it denies some visitors immediate access.

During the incident on Aug. 14, the Times said it experienced “technical difficulties” during a routine morning maintenance operation. The main website and mobile apps would not load for about an hour.

The New York Times, as well as many other news organizations, has become a favorite target of hackers looking to draw attention to their causes.


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