Last week, on Aug. 27, The New York Times website was hacked and was unavailable for about 3 hours.
It is believed that the Syrian Electronic Army carried out the cyber attack. The website was also attacked earlier this year by suspected Chinese hackers. This was more about tracking The Times’s movements than taking down the site.
Both of the hacking incidents were motivated by The Times’s reporting on Syria’s and China’s authoritarian governments — reporting that threatens the narrative that the people in power tell themselves and their countries.
We in the U.S. accept an attack on the powerful by an adversarial media, but apparently, overseas governments do not see an open exchange of ideas through investigation as an asset.
While the Syrian group only claimed to be in support of the Assad regime, the Chinese hackers may have actually had government support. The Times reported that a huge component of cyber attacks perpetrated on companies, like The New York Times itself, can be traced electronically to one 12-story building outside of Shanghai. This unit that reportedly operates out of this location is responsible for stealing U.S. state and corporate secrets, as well as monitoring Western news organizations’ sources and their content creation.
Should we be able to trust the news that we receive from The New York Times? Will the publication be able to source and frame the information correctly given that its system has been so badly compromised?
It is not just The Times that has been hacked. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post were hacked, as well. So was The Associated Press Twitter feed earlier this year, and the false tweets actually led to a 143-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.
To read the news these days is to read with a grain of salt. Believing everything you read, of course, has always been foolish. Today it should be stressed because hacking allows anyone anywhere to alter and obfuscate what we call “truth” in the media.
I respect and trust the media, but I always get a second opinion before I take a real interest in a subject I’ve read about online.
For those of you who do not trust the media in the first place, I wonder how you go about staying informed. Even though current media outlets are insecure, you can’t live without these organizations, which are tasked with reporting facts vital to understanding and relating to the world.
The world today is so different today than during any other major time in media history, from Joseph Pulitzer to Watergate. We count on our media to report on and analyze major topics in the world, rather than only focusing on local news. Back then, globalization was not an issue and people did not need to relate to both Taipei City and Topeka through their local paper.
Sure, you can find someone’s blog, but the reliability of a major paper should inspire confidence in the culture of the newspaper’s drive to supply the real world news on the screen and on paper.
Hopefully, either newspapers will up their security or foreign actors (and sometimes domestic ones, like the Justice Department) will find that free societies need an exchange of information that only newspapers can supply.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @peternorthfelt