What’s the most absurd nonsense that’s out there in the American press lately? Now that the Wall Street Journal has jumped into the fray, asserting, “Chinese Hackers Hit U.S. Media,” I thought the paper would at least cite some hard evidence. Alas, no. Instead, when you see the whole article premised on “people familiar with incidents said” or “several people familiar with the response to the cyberattacks said,” well, what can you say? Perhaps there is a career in journalism in quoting cats and dogs too. But I must give the WSJ credit for interviewing Chinese Embassy spokesman Geng Shuang, who condemned the allegations: “It is irresponsible to make such an allegation without solid proof and evidence. The Chinese government prohibits cyberattacks and has done what it can to combat such activities in accordance with Chinese laws.”
Could there be something more absurd? WSJ quoted Richard Betjlich, chief security officer with the computer-security company Mandiant Corp., whom NYT hired to investigate its breach:
“It’s part of this overall story that the Chinese want to know what the West thinks of them. What slant is the media going to take on them? Who are their sources?”
Truly moronic. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply read the articles rather than hacking to understand what the Western media thinks of them?
But, wait a minute, Betjlich has not revealed hard evidence the hackers are even Chinese. The fact that the IP’s traced to some computers in China means nothing, just as many U.S. universities computers were also hops along the same route used by the hackers dismissed as culprit.
Let’s assume the hackers are indeed physically within China, so does that then mean the entire nation is guilty? Since when did American hackers who steal other’s identity represent the whole of America?
Obviously, no one should be condoning hacking. In fact, U.S. and China should cooperate to chase down hackers.
So, as the Chinese Embassy spokesman Geng Shuang said, it is indeed irresponsible to make such allegations without solid proof and evidence. So far, these WSJ and NYT articles speak more about these U.S. media than anything else.
Such behavior in these media’s part is really the same sort of nastiness already articulated in this excellently written piece by melektaus, “Collective Defamation,” which is also under our featured posts section.
NYT, WSJ Forget the Facts in Stories About Their Own Hacks
After getting hacked last week, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times irresponsibly published allegations about the hackers without the necessary facts to support them.
Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were hacked last week, and the incidents made headlines not because they were a big deal but because the press loves to talk about itself. In this case, the talk came in the form of some appallingly bad reporting.
The attacks themselves apparently don’t matter because the hackers–assumed to be Chinese, though I have yet to see any facts that substantiates this–didn’t get any sensitive information. That’s probably because these new sources have precious little sensitive information to be found. As The WSJ points out:
“Journal sources on occasion have become hard to reach after information identifying them was included in emails. However, Western reporters in China long have assumed that authorities are monitoring their communications and act accordingly in sensitive cases.”
This fact did not prevent The Journal from running a story that implies something big happened. From that story:
“Chinese hackers believed to have government links have been conducting wide-ranging electronic surveillance of media companies including The Wall Street Journal, apparently to spy on reporters covering China and other issues, people familiar with the incidents said.”
A WSJ article about something that happened at the WSJ can’t name the source of the information?!?! Whose identity is being protected and why?
The story later says these attacks have been going on for years. Newspapers are no different than any other businesses in this respect, so why are the hacks now news?
The Times tried to link the intrusion to its superb reporting about the finances of Chinese leaders:
“The timing of the attacks coincided with the reporting for a Times investigation, published online on Oct. 25, that found that the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, had accumulated a fortune worth several billion dollars through business dealings.”
Correlation isn’t proof, folks. But The Times does its damndest to make a circumstantial case against China:
- “The hackers tried to cloak the source of the attacks on The Times by first penetrating computers at United States universities and routing the attacks through them, said computer security experts at Mandiant, the company hired byThe Times. This matches the subterfuge used in many other attacks that Mandiant has tracked to China.”
- “The malware was identified by computer security experts as a specific strain associated with computer attacks originating in China.”
- “More evidence of the source, experts said, is that the attacks started from the same university computers used by the Chinese military to attack United States military contractors in the past.”
- “The attacks appear to be part of a broader computer espionage campaign against American news media companies that have reported on Chinese leaders and corporations.”
- “Last year, Bloomberg News was targeted by Chinese hackers, and some employees’ computers were infected, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s internal investigation.”
- “The mounting number of attacks that have been traced back to China suggest that hackers there are behind a far-reaching spying campaign.”
- “Security experts said that beginning in 2008, Chinese hackers began targeting Western journalists.” (Well, if unnamed security experts say so it must be true.)
- “On Oct. 25, the day the article was published online, AT&T informed The Timesthat it had noticed behavior that was consistent with other attacks believed to have been perpetrated by the Chinese military.”
Unless The Times has figured out how to positively identify the source of a cyber attack, something no one else has done, not a single one of those claims is verifiable.
It is embarrassing that an article in The NYT makes so many accusations without facts to support them. The Journal story isn’t any better. The only voice in the story that raises reasonable criticism of the allegations is a Chinese government spokesman:
“Cyber attacks are transnational and anonymous. It’s very hard to trace the source of attack,” he said. “To presume the source of a hacking attack based on speculation is irresponsible and unprofessional.”
All three of those sentences are true but since we’ve been told China is behind the attacks his comment is already discredited.
It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to find out that China was indeed behind the attacks. However, the truth is that we do not know. In journalism to presume the source ofanything “based on speculation is irresponsible and unprofessional.”
(My deepest sympathies go to the reporters who got stuck writing these articles. There is nothing worse than writing a story about a news event involving your own newspaper. It is quite possible that the articles published bear little resemblence to the articles the reporters submitted to their editors. I have seen it happen many times under similar circumstances.)