Cyber Attacks, Journalism and National Security

Somebody — or something — hacked my Twitter account over the weekend. That seems like kind of a silly waste of time and technology since I rarely even look at Twitter these days other than to keep an eye on a few national journalists. And I expect that most of my Tweets end up in the equivalent of a Twitter junk mail queue in any event.

So for me this is mostly embarrassing to the extent that I really don’t want people to think I am sending messages saying something like — “must be you in this photo” — with the accompanying photo I imagine not something you want to circulate widely unless you’re a celebrity or elected government official. And I most likely would never have even known about this cyber attack except that a real-life friend sent me an e-mail about it.

But hacking is very much in the news these days. And it’s not a trivial matter.

Rupert Murdoch, family and friends will be grilled in Parliament today over the unethical and most likely criminal activities involving News Corporation and its merry gang of scribblers and Talking Heads. And yesterday, Lulz Security, described by the NYT as “the hacking group,” attacked some of the Murdoch media properties and website. Here’s from the story “Lulz Security Says It Hacked News Corporation Sites“:

The hacking group Lulz Security claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on Web sites belonging  to the News Corporation on Monday. Among the attacks, the hacking group planted a fake article about the death of Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, on one of the company’s newspaper sites.

The fake article appeared on a page at new-times.co.uk, which had apparently been used to inform readers about a new design for the site of The Times of London. It said Mr. Murdoch had died from a drug overdose.

Mr. Murdoch’s company is facing a sweeping scandal in Britain, set off by revelations that journalists at his newspapers hacked into voice-mail accounts in search of news.

After posting the fake article, LulzSec apparently altered the Web site of The Sun, another Murdoch paper, so that it sent site visitors to the article. Soon after, the Sun site instead forwarded visitors to the LulzSec Twitter page.

LulzSec also claimed it had changed the DNS addresses for all of News International’s Web sites, making them completely inaccessible to the public. DNS refers to the Domain Name System, which is a directory that connects Web site names to numerical Internet addresses.

When News International, the British newspaper division of the News Corporation, posted what appeared to be a statement about the hacking of The Sun’s site on its corporate site, those who tried to read the statement were also sent to the Twitter page. The sites of News International, The Sun and The Times were all unreachable later in the evening.

LulzSec said last month that it was closing up shop and would discontinue a hacking spree, but the group seems to have reorganized and is now active again.

The group has claimed responsibility for hacking a number of sites over the last two months, including those of PBS, the United States Senate, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Web site of a company associated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Not that funny, folks. The entire situation involving News Corporation is a black eye for ethical and responsible journalism. But the ability of individuals and groups to hack personal accounts and websites — and launch cyber attacks against organizations and governments — represents a real threat to our economy and national security.

During his recent confirmation hearing to become the head sled at the Department of Defense, then CIA chief Leon Panetta warned that a “cyber attack could be the next Pearl Harbor.”

CIA director Leon Panetta has warned that a large-scale cyber attack that could take down power, finance, security and governmental systems is a ‘real possibility’.

Appearing before Congress in a confirmation hearing for his appointment as secretary of defense, Mr Panetta said that the U.S. could face cyber warfare.

‘The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems,’ said Mr Panetta.

‘This is a real possibility in today’s world,’ he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

‘As a result, I think we have to aggressively be able to counter that. It is going to take both defensive measures as well as aggressive measures to deal with it.’

Mr Panetta is due to take over from Robert Gates as secretary of defense at the end of the month.

His comments came after the Pentagon said that the U.S. could treat cyber attacks originating from foreign countries to be the equivalent to acts of war.

The International Monetary Fund became the latest high-profile institution to admit that it had been targeted by sophisticated cyber attackers.

I’m convinced that it won’t be too long before the Lisbeth Salanders of the world emerge as the most feared economic and political terrorists. And maybe they are getting their start by hacking the Twitter accounts of pajama-clad citizen journalists.
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