News Corp., the media company that owns The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, said Friday that it has been the victim of a sustained Chinese hacking campaign.
The company said in an email sent to employees that hackers had breached company systems and targeted specific documents and reporter email accounts. The hackers only breached news organizations and not other News Corp. properties, such as HarperCollins Publishers and Storyful, the email said.
It wasn’t clear exactly how the hackers broke in, but the company discovered the hackers had affected “a system used by several of its business units” on Jan. 20. In a Friday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, News Corp. said the hackers went through a third-party computing service it uses.
The company is in the process of notifying individuals whose accounts the hackers accessed.
“Our highest concern is the protection of our employees, including our journalists, and their sources,” the email said.
David Wong, vice president of consulting for Mandiant, a cybersecurity company that News Corp. hired in response to the hack, said in an email that it had reason to believe the breach was an example of China’s vast and ongoing cyberespionage operation. A Mandiant spokesperson declined to provide evidence of China’s role, adding that its investigation is ongoing.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told NBC News on Tuesday that Chinese espionage against the U.S. has become extremely prevalent, and the agency is averaging two new Chinese counterintelligence investigations a day.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Priscilla Moriuchi, a nonresident fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former China specialist at the National Security Agency, said news outlets like The Wall Street Journal, which have published sensitive stories about the Chinese government, would be a logical target for China’s spies for several reasons.
“China has very aggressively pursued Western reporters that have published stories critical of party and government leadership,” she said. “It is likely PRC hackers would be looking to gain information both on the sources for these stories and on the reporters themselves in order to gain leverage to shut them down,” she continued, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
The timing of the hack could also reflect an attempt to anticipate Western media coverage of the Winter Games in Beijing, she said.
“Also in the context of the Olympics, access to a media organization could enable the government and censorship apparatus to anticipate and counter or delay critical or negative stories,” Moriuchi said.