China’s state media hacked, possibly in failed blackmail attempt

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 5:37pm

One of China’s biggest news agencies was hacked for over an hour on Wednesday night in what may have been a clumsy attempt to extort money from the state-owned media outlet, local media on the Chinese mainland reported on Thursday.

Chinanews.cn, the official website of China’s No. 2 state-owned news agency after Xinhua, went down at around 11pm but had brought some of its services back online by midnight, the Beijing Times reported on its official microblog.

As of late Thursday afternoon, no one had come forward to claim responsibility for the attack and the agency's online services were still disrupted with formatting problems still plaguing its home page and sub-channels.

This is just the latest incident highlighting how companies and organisations in mainland China and Hong Kong are ill-prepared to deal with cyber security risks.

However, some of the cases are less opaque in a country famous for its lack of transparency.

Ctrip, China’s biggest online travel agent, faced a 12-hour breakdown in service on May 28 that the company initially blamed on hackers, but later changed tack and described as the result of an error by one of its members of staff.

Chinanews.cn offered no further information about the incident. Most mainland media also did not report it.

“We are trying our best to get back to being fully operational,” an editor at the news agency told the South China Morning Post.

“We have nothing to release at this moment about the hacking attack,” added the man, who declined to give his name.

According to a screenshot offered by the Beijing Times, those responsible for the attack left a one-sentence message on the agency’s home page giving the number of a bank account at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

It vowed to right the wrong only after an unspecified amount of money had been remitted to the account.

By way of a calling card, the attacker left their ID number on Tencent QQ, an instant messaging service that is hugely popular in China.

Hacking has become more of a concern in recent years after a slew of high-profile cases such as North Korea’s suspected hacking of Sony Pictures in December, which led to the dismissal of some of its top executives, and an attack on eBay early last year that resulted in the theft of the personal information of over 145 million of its users.

The number of detected cyber attacks worldwide rose 48 per cent on-year in 2014, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report. It is expected to keep rising at a similar rate this year. Over 100,000 attacks currently take place every day, PwC said.

A recent poll of over 1,400 public and private companies worldwide by insurance firm Aon found that cyber risks emerged as a "major concern" for the first time, according to its Global Risk Management Survey.