Hackers "persistently" attacked The New York Times to swipe its passwords after the newspaper claimed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's family had amassed a vast fortune.
During the four-month assault, miscreants linked to China's military broke into the email accounts of the NYT's Shanghai bureau chief David Barboza and former Beijing bureau boss Jim Yardley. The two journalists wrote a report claiming Wen's relatives had accumulated billions of dollars through business dealings, although Yardley had since moved on to head the broadsheet's South Asia bureau in India.
The newspaper said no sensitive emails or files were seen or downloaded, but admitted that the hackers had infiltrated its computer systems and copied passwords for its reporters and other employees.
"Security experts hired by The Times to detect and block the computer attacks gathered digital evidence that Chinese hackers, using methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese military in the past, breached The Times’s network," the newspaper declared.
The data raiders tried to hide by infiltrating US university computers first and then routing their attacks through them, security firm Mandiant said. The same academic systems were also used by the Chinese military to attack US defence contractors, the experts added. Malware was installed on The Times' computers to open a backdoor for the attackers to remotely control the compromised machines, and was a strain associated with "computer attacks originating in China".
The Chinese foreign ministry dismissed allegations of state collusion to reporters in Beijing.
"To arbitrarily assert and to conclude without hard evidence that China participated in such hacking attacks is totally irresponsible. Chinese laws clearly forbid hacking attacks," spokesman Hong Lei said, Channel News Asia reported. ®