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Red peril paranoia hits Twitter

Allegations fly of state-sponsored hack to silence dissent during Party Congress

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

China watchers put two and two together and made five yesterday after pointing fingers at Chinese state-sponsored hackers whom they suspected of trying to break into their Twitter accounts.

Several high profile Tweeters from academia, media and elsewhere began suspecting foul play after having their passwords reset and receiving an email with the following message:

Twitter believes that your account may have been compromised by a website or service not associated with Twitter.

Noting that fellow “China watchers” had reported similar, several began to suspect the hand of the Chinese authorities.

Some of the accounts compromised included those of Hong Kong university’s China Media Project – an account monitoring censorship in the PRC – and WSJ reported Mei Fong.

“Wow, my Twitter account just got hacked. Party Congresses are such fun,” wrote another – Tsinghua University professor Patrick Chovanec.

Paranoia is high at the moment, especially for those tweeting from within the Great Firewall, because the Communist Party is currently holding its 18th National Congress – a glorified PR event at the end of which this year the Party will unveil its new leadership team for the next decade.

Such politically sensitive events are stage managed down to the last detail and usually come with an internet health warning as online censors step up their propaganda drive.

In the run up to this year’s Congress there have been outages of major foreign web sites, service interruptions and even an increase in blockages reported by VPN companies, the Wall Street Journal said.

Virtual Private Networks are the main route by which information-hungry China dwellers can bypass the Great Firewall and reach usually restricted content.

Although it is not known who the culprit of yesterday’s mass hack attempt was, it later emerged that the attack did not solely affect China watchers.

A Twitter balls-up actually turned it into a more widespread problem than it needed to be in the end after also resetting some accounts that hadn’t been compromised. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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