Safety & Security: Are widespread cyber attacks against the media looming?


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A group calling itself the CyberCaliphate conducted a cyber attack against French TV network TV5Monde on April 8, disrupting regular TV and hijacking the network’s website as well as its social media accounts.

TV5Monde rebounds from cyber attack

French television network TV5Monde suffered a cyber attack April 8 by a group calling itself the CyberCaliphate. The network’s regular programs were replaced by a message reading “Je suIS IS.” In addition, the network’s website was hijacked as well as its social media accounts. The hackers also posted ID cards of what it claimed were relatives of French soldiers involved in the fight against ISIS. The attack blacked out 11 channels and completely shut down the station’s computer systems, including servers.

TV5Monde, which calls itself the “worldwide French cultural channel” and claims to reach 250 million homes throughout the world, was able to restore control of its website and social networks by the morning of April 9, and resumed normal programs on its TV network by that evening.

French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin held a meeting of 20 representatives from the country’s major TV networks, newspapers and news agency Agence France-Presse to identify their vulnerabilities and discuss preventive measures.

The French government and media were already employing added measures to guard against cyber attacks in the wake of a deadly gun attack on French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and an ensuing hostage incident at a kosher grocery store in Paris earlier this year.

France has become a target of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate partly because it is a member of a U.S-led coalition confronting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Counter-hacktivism

Interestingly, so-called cyber-jihadists have their own enemy in the form of hacktivist group Anonymous. In February, Anonymous executed a large cyber attack against ISIS. The operation, code named #OpISIS, was aimed at hundreds of Facebook and Twitter accounts that were identified as being used by ISIS to spread its message and recruit members throughout the world.

Cyber attacks against the media grow

The recent cyber attack against TV5Monde is believed to be the work of the ISIS hacking division which has also claimed credit for taking control of other media group digital accounts including Newsweek’s Twitter feed in February. In addition to the Newsweek hack, the organization claimed responsibility for hijacking Maryland TV station WBOC TV in January. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported as early as 2010 that cyber attacks against the media were increasing, and there is no reason to believe more media outlets in the United States are exempt from similar cyber attacks in the future.

While cyber attacks against the media are nothing new, attacks against some media heavy hitters in 2013 are most notable. A group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army, supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, claimed credit for cyber attacks against The New York Times and The Huffington Post. The hackers gained access through an Australian company that managed both media company’s domain addresses. The group also hacked the Washington Post’s website as well as the Financial Times' website. The Syrian Electronic Army also conducted cyber attacks against the Associated Press, the BBC and Al Jazeera. The group stated that it targeted these media organizations because of their slanted reporting on Syria’s civil war.

Such threats pose not only an operational danger, but also a very real danger to the very foundation of free speech. Recent history demonstrates that cyber attacks will grow and that most media organizations, especially those serving smaller markets, will be surprised and unprepared. An added concern is the specter of possible physical terror attacks against individual journalists as well as media headquarters, similar to this year’s attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

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This message appeared on TV5Monde’s website during an April 8 cyber attack by a group calling itself the CyberCaliphate.

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