You're nobody until somebody in China hacks you

First the New York Times was infiltrated by Chinese hackers, then the Wall Street Journal. Can InfoWorld be far behind?

It's not just U.S. politicians who hate the media -- turns out our frenemies in the Far East do too. At the very least, they like to keep an extremely close eye on the activities of my journalistic colleagues.

This week both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported that they've been infiltrated by cyber spies, almost certainly acting as agents of the People's Republic of China. The Times report was particularly compelling, detailing four months of break-ins. Over that interim, the Times security team kept watch, so it could figure out the vulnerabilities the attackers exploited and fix them -- not unlike following the trail of vermin through your attic to isolate the holes in the roof.

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The most likely vector of attack was a spearphishing email that suckered some naïve Times employee into advertently installing a remote access Trojan on the servers. From there, the attackers downloaded 45 separate pieces of malware -- only one of which the Times' Symantec security software detected. They they found the server containing the encrypted passwords for Times employees and proceeded to crack them.

(Symantec issued an official response to the Times report, essentially saying the Times didn't use enough of its software to protect itself. As any honest security expert will tell you, though, security software is about as effective as installing a deadbolt on your front door: It will only keep out people who aren't trying very hard to get in.)

Apparently, the Chinese government did not take kindly to reports published last October by the Times detailing the many billions of dollars squirreled away by members of Premier Wen Jiabao's family. To wit:

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister's relatives -- some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making -- have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

Presumably, the Chinese were looking for the sources used by reporters to dig up this dirt so they could punish them -- not realizing that reporter David Barboza relied on good old-fashioned public records research for most of his story.

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