Journalists working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp have had their email accounts hacked in what the company believes was an espionage operation linked to China, raising fears for the safety of confidential sources.
The cyber-attack affected a limited number of individuals working for outlets including News UK – the publisher of the Times and the Sun – as well as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
“Our preliminary analysis indicates that foreign government involvement may be associated with this activity, and that some data was taken,” said News Corp in an email to staff. The company said it was concerned for the wellbeing of its staff, its journalists and sources who have communicated with its reporters.
An initial assessment by the cybersecurity company Mandiant, which was called in when News Corp discovered the apparent attack on 20 January, concluded that the attackers had links to China and “are likely involved in espionage activities to collect intelligence to benefit China’s interests”.
News Corp said it was concerned about the protection of its staff and its journalists’ sources following the cyber-attack. “We are working closely with the leadership teams of the affected businesses to inform those employees whose accounts were impacted and help them take appropriate measures.”
The email to staff described the attack as a “persistent nation-state attack” that had been contained.
News Corp said it did not appear that any financial or user data had been targeted, suggesting the hackers may have been after information relating to its journalism. The company did not disclose how many email accounts were compromised by the Chinese-linked hackers, or what proportion of the compromised company email accounts belonged to its journalists. It does not believe staff at its other subsidiaries – such as the publisher HarperCollins or News Corp Australia – were targeted.
Beijing has been accused repeatedly of running an aggressive hacking campaign designed to gather information from private companies and governments around the world.
Earlier this week, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, used a speech to accuse the Chinese government of stealing “staggering volumes of information” using “a massive, sophisticated hacking programme that is bigger than those of every other major nation combined”, with well-funded operations based in every major Chinese city.
News Corp said it would be informing other news publishers about the cyber-attack “We will not tolerate attacks on our journalism, nor will we be deterred from our reporting, which provides readers everywhere with the news that matters.
“We believe it is important that other media organisations be made aware of this threat in order to take appropriate precautions, and we are providing technical details of the attack to the media information sharing and analysis organisation.”