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Report: Russian Hackers Target New York Times

The FBI is reportedly investigating breaches at the newspaper and other outlets.

By , an assistant editor and staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2013-2019.
GettyImages-94123770crop
GettyImages-94123770crop

Every day, the scope of alleged Russian hacking against U.S. organizations widens. On Tuesday, CNN reported that the FBI is investigating hackers believed to be working for Moscow who “carried out a series of cyber breaches targeting reporters at the New York Times and other U.S. news organizations.”

Every day, the scope of alleged Russian hacking against U.S. organizations widens. On Tuesday, CNN reported that the FBI is investigating hackers believed to be working for Moscow who “carried out a series of cyber breaches targeting reporters at the New York Times and other U.S. news organizations.”

But later on Tuesday, the Times reported that CNN had overstated the nature of the attack on the paper. Hackers, likely working on behalf of Russia, had attempted to breach the Times Moscow bureau. The paper has no evidence they breached its computer systems there.

The Times reported that the FBI was looking into the attempted hack. An anonymous government official told the paper that the FBI has “no investigations underway of such episodes at other news organizations.”

The cable news outlet cited anonymous “U.S. officials briefed on the matter” and said that the FBI, along with other agencies, are investigating the attempted breach at the Times. The officials speaking to CNN said the “intrusions” at the paper and other outlets were detected “in recent months” and said they had been part of a campaign that has also targeted Democratic Party organizations.

The FBI declined to comment, and the Times did not respond to FP’s questions about the report’s veracity.

“We are constantly monitoring our systems with the latest available intelligence and tools,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, told the paper. “We have seen no evidence that any of our internal systems, including our systems in the Moscow bureau, have been breached or compromised.”

If the CNN report is in fact correct, the hacking of the Times and other outlets would hardly come as a surprise. Cybersecurity experts who have studied the activities of Russian state-sponsored hackers say that the groups target a wide range of U.S. groups — from companies, defense contractors, NGOs, think tanks, to government entities and members of the media.

But organizations that have been targeted by hackers are typically loath to go public with that information — for fear of damage to their reputation or for fear of lawsuits. The full scope of Russian hacking is all but certainly broader than the range of organizations that have so far been named as targets. These include, so far, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, some Republican officials, the Trump campaign, and, now, the Times, in addition to other unnamed media outlets.

Members of the media represent attractive targets for state-sponsored hackers. In touch with government sources and a large number of individuals, journalists can give state-backed hackers insight into which government officials matter, the future direction of policy, and future media coverage.

State-sponsored hackers have previously targeted the Times: In late 2012 and early 2013, Chinese operatives broke into the email accounts of several reporters working for the paper. That breach appeared to have come in retaliation for a series of articles documenting the fantastic wealth of senior Chinese officials; reporters who had worked on that story were specifically targeted.

The apparent Russian hacking campaign against U.S. organizations became a major issue in the presidential campaign after what are believed to be Russian hackers broke into the computers of the Democratic National Committee. WikiLeaks posted emails from the group that led to major discord within the party and the resignation of party chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

That, in turn, led the Clinton campaign to accuse Moscow of trying to tilt the election toward GOP nominee Donald Trump, who has espoused a series of policies welcomed by Russia.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Elias Groll was an assistant editor and staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2013-2019.
Twitter: @eliasgroll

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