Cyber Attacks Against Journalists Are On The Rise, Says Advocacy Group

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More journalists are now the target of cyber attacks, said the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney said cyber attacks on individuals and news organizations have increased notably over the past few years and that the practice serves as easy and inexpensive censorship. In a press conference with reporters, Mahoney cited the recent attacks on The New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal by Chinese hackers, but said other news organizations and journalists in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and other regions had also been subjected to cyberattacks.

Attacks by hackers have ramped up so much that in a report last June, the CPJ said that it’s now “open season on online journalists,” with nation-states using customized software to exploit security flaws on personal computers and consumer Internet services in order to spy on users. Countries suspected in spying include the U.S., Israel and China. Journalists working in the latter country reported receiving regular warnings on their Gmail that their account had been targeted by what Google said was a “state-sponsored attack.”

Other countries include Myanmar, where several journalists who cover the country said earlier this week that they had received warnings from Google that their email accounts might have been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers.” This wasn’t the only case of cyberattacks and news Web sites in that country, where these incidents are calling into question the integrity of media reforms by the government.

CPJ wrote in its June report that:

The lesson of all of this activity is that many governments see these attacks as an effective, unregulated, and deniable way to target groups that would otherwise be too politically sensitive or independent to publically challenge or co-opt. That puts reporters, bloggers, and media companies high on the hit list.

Just as cyber attacks against journalists are increasing, so are physical assaults. CPJ also reported a stark rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned around the world in 2012, due to repressive government regimes intolerant of dissent and brazen impunity for killers. Seventy journalists were killed on the job in 2012, a 43 percent increase from the year earlier, and more than 35 journalists had disappeared. CPJ said that in 2012 it identified 232 journalists who had been imprisoned, 53 more than a year earlier and the highest number since its survey began in 1990.

The CPJ’s Mahoney said “the right to receive and impart information transcends borders, and international and regional bodies have a key role to play in upholding these principles, which are under attack.”