Wall Street Journal claims Chinese cyber attack | Connect Asia

Wall Street Journal claims Chinese cyber attack

Wall Street Journal claims Chinese cyber attack

Updated 1 February 2013, 15:32 AEDT

First the New York Times, now the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal says its computers have been hit by Chinese hackers - just the latest US media organisation accusing China of spying on its journalists.


It says the cyber attacks were "for the apparent purpose of monitoring the newspaper's China coverage", and suggests the Chinese are routinely spying on US media.

It comes a day after The New York Times said hackers, with possible connections to China's military, had infiltrated its computers in response to its expose of Premier Wen Jiabao's family wealth.

China denies the claims.

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy

Speaker: Matthew Warren, a professor of information security at Melbourne's Deakin University

WARREN: Well I think what you have is a sort of an ongoing pattern of what's happening in the world is you have a situation where cyber espionage and interference of key systems is now becoming very commonplace. And it's not just sort of China that's involved in these activities, there's other countries such as Russia that are also linked to these activities. I think what is difficult is to link the activities to a particular country and government. You can link it to a country but what we've seen in China and Russia is the concept of cyber militia or patriotic hacking where people carry out activities on behalf of the government. So in terms of the New York Times example you have a situation there where the New York Times had run a story about the Chinese Premier, and that triggered then the actual activities.

MCCARTHY: Do you think though that this so-called cyber militia in places like China, I mean are they acting with the direct approval or the tacit approval of the Chinese authorities?

WARREN: Well certainly in terms of the China and Russia examples, they would have to operate with the authorities knowing what was going on, whether they're coordinate by governments is another matter, but certainly there would be exchange of information. I think certainly in terms of the New York Times situation what you had a situation of their entire system being infected by mal-ware. So again you had the point of attack, their system had to be infected, so it could have been someone simply getting an email saying you've won the lottery, click on this link to get the rewards, and then all of a sudden the New York Times machine is infected with mal-ware that spreads through their organisation, and collects information and emails it back to these Chinese computers. The other issue in terms of the Wall Street Journal is a slightly different one because the issue there isn't necessarily a physical activity that occurred, what it was related to was perception management, that maybe the concern was that media organisations would write negative stories about particular government. So by knowing these stories were about to released, particular governments could run media campaigns to counter that information. But we should also recognise that the Australian government recognises that this is an issue that in the recent Australian government national security strategy they actually talk about the risks to Australia, cyber espionage and file interference, not just organisations but also individuals. So it's been accepted that it is becoming a bigger problem around the world as we become so dependent on information and information systems.

MCCARTHY: Do you accept this claim from the Wall Street Journal that China now appears to be routinely spying on US media?

WARREN: Well certainly as I mentioned before in terms of the perception management aspects is there are particular countries in the world that are concerned about negative stories being written about them. So it certainly does fall in line with that concept of countries trying to protect their image. And I think governments are now very concerned, certain governments are very concerned about the power of the internet and social media, and the negative spin that can give about particular countries. So I think certain countries are certainly very sensitive about the perceptions of those countries and the activities. But I think what we've seen with the New York Times is the fact that it has been going on for such a long time, and the New York Times actually monitored the activities of what was going on and has collected so much evidence, forensic evidence linking the attacks back to China. And the fact that they've actually more or less said we've had to scrap our information systems and install completely fresh systems because the current ones are that infected, we can't actually take out all of the mal-ware from the system. So it shows an extremely high level of sophistication of these attacks.

MCCARTHY: Indeed and as you say Julia Gillard has sighted cyber warfare as an emerging national security threat. Given that these are such sophisticated attacks, is the capacity there for governments and media organisations to really defend themselves?

WARREN: Well again in terms of the cyber aspect you've got the issue there of really what we're talking about is critical infrastructure, is that critical infrastructure is government controlled but is also corporate controlled. And I think what you're seeing is the attacks being more focussed upon corporate systems and whether they're trying to steal information from media organisations or steal sensitive secrets from organisations, what we begin to see is a pattern that organisations are more likely to be attacked. So again what you're seeing is that information security is now developing not just protecting your information from individual hackers, but actually protecting it from well-orchestrated attacks by groups of hackers from the other side of the world. So again as Julia Gillard has highlighted in her policy, it is a current risk and it's going to become a greater risk into the future.

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