Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Chinese hack New York Times computers

Staff passwords stolen as intruders hunt for details of probe into wealth of nation's premier.

BEIJING // Chinese hackers repeatedly broke into The New York Times' computer systems during the past four months, the newspaper reported today.

The intruders stole reporters' passwords as they hunted for information about an investigation into the wealth amassed by the family of a top Chinese leader.

Security experts hired to find and plug the breach found the cyber attacks used tactics similar to ones used in previous hacking incidents traced to China.

The report said the hackers routed the attacks through computers at US universities, and installed a strain of malicious software, or malware, associated with Chinese hackers. The breaches were initiated from Chinese university computers previously used by the Chinese military to attack US military contractors.

The attacks, which began in mid-September, coincided with a Times investigation into how the relatives and family of the premier, Wen Jiabao, built a fortune worth more than US$2 billion (Dh7.3bn).

The story embarrassed Communist Party chiefs when it was posted online on October 25. It came ahead of a fraught transition to new leaders and exposed deep-rooted favouritism at a time when many people in China are upset about the wealth gap.

During the months of cyber-attacks, the hackers stole the passwords of all Times employees and used them to get into the personal computers of 53 employees.

The report said customer data was not compromised and that information about the investigation into the Wen family remained protected, though it left unclear what data or communications the infiltrators did manage to access.

"Computer security experts found no evidence that sensitive emails or files from the reporting of our articles about the Wen family were accessed, downloaded or copied," said Jill Abramson, an executive editor.

A Times spokeswoman declined to comment further.

The Chinese foreign and defence ministries called the Times' allegations baseless, and the defence ministry denied any involvement in the hacking by the military.

"Chinese law forbids hacking and any other actions that damage internet security," the ministry said. "The Chinese military has never supported any hacking activities.

"Cyber-attacks are characterised by being cross-national and anonymous. To accuse the Chinese military of launching cyber-attacks without firm evidence is not professional and also groundless."

China has been accused by the US, other foreign governments and computer security experts of mounting a widespread, aggressive cyber-spying campaign for several years, trying to steal classified information and corporate secrets and to intimidate critics.

Foreign reporters and news media have been among the targets of attacks intended to uncover the identities of sources for news stories, and to stifle critical reports about the Chinese government.

"Attacks on journalists based in China are increasingly aggressive, disruptive and sophisticated," said Greg Walton, a cybersecurity researcher who has tracked Chinese hacking campaigns. China's cyber-spying efforts have excelled in part because of the government's "willingness to ignore international norms relating to civil society and media organisations", he said.

The Times reported that executives became concerned just before the publication of the Wen investigation after learning that Chinese officials had warned of unspecified consequences.

Soon after the publication of the story, AT&T, which monitors the Times' computer networks, notified the company about activity consistent with a hacking attack, the report said.

After months of investigation by Mandiant, a computer security firm, experts were still unsure how the hackers initially infiltrated the newspaper's computer systems, the report said.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted by university students as he leaves Sistan University in Sistan and Baluchestan’s provincial capital of Zahedan on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

In Iran’s most troubled province, Rouhani hears pleas for change

Hassan Rounani aims to connect with residents of far-flung Sistan and Baluchestan province.

 Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh on March 3, 2007. Hassan Ammar / AFP Photo

Saudi Prince Bandar promised a victory he could not deliver

Saudi Arabia's controversial intelligence chief stepped down this week after rumours that his policies on Syria had fallen out of favour.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. AFP Photo

The inner workings of Gulen’s ‘parallel state’

Fethullah Gulen's followers are accused of trying to push Turkey's prime minister from power.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National