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Google researcher says government hack attacks on journos on the rise

Everyone's a target, it seems

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Most major news organisations are now the targets of state-sponsored attacks on their security, according to Google security researcher Shane Huntley.

According to Reuters, Huntley told the Singapore Black Hat conference on March 28 that his research, conducted in partnership with Citizen Labs' Morgan Marquis-Boire, revealed attacks on 21 out of the world's top 25 news organisations.

Huntley didn't reveal how many of those attacks Google believed had been successful, but news organisations known to have been infiltrated in some way include Forbes, the Financial Times, and the New York Times. The first two of these were claimed by the Syrian Electronic Army, while the New York Times attack is attributed to China.

The attacks that reach the public are, however, the tip of the iceberg of cliché, with Marquis-Boire noting that there's been a year-long campaign against journalists and bloggers following human rights issues in Vietnam.

According to Reuters, Huntley believes a recent successful attack against an unnamed Western news organisation involved a fake questionnaire e-mailed to its staff. This fits the general pattern of phishing, either via e-mail or malicious links in social media posts, being the attack of first resort for most high-profile hacks of recent times.

The abstract of Huntley's and Marquis-Boire's talk says news organisations are targeted using “0day-bearing documents, targeted spear-phishing and watering hole attacks [and] implants both custom nation-state designed and commercial”.

Huntley told Reuters: “If you're a journalist or a journalistic organisation we will see state-sponsored targeting and we see it happening regardless of region”. ®

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