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Foreign Hackers Apparently Behind Major US Newspapers’ Printing Plants Cyberattack

By Charles Miller

As this column is being written, the news has just come out that the newspaper printing plants owned by Tribune Publishing in Los Angeles have been crippled by a cyberattack. The disruptions resulting from the attack delayed the printing of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune as well as the West Coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, all of which are printed in the same plant.

Because Tribune Publishing properties include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and other print news outlets in New York and Florida, there are fears that the computer problems in California could spread through the company network.

Newspaper people are known for their ability to soldier on through times of crisis. The newspapers did go out, albeit a few hours late. Still, between 85 and 90 percent of the pages in the San Diego Union-Tribune were missing from the Sunday morning edition for December 30.

A source with knowledge of the situation has been quoted saying a “foreign entity” launched the attack, using computer-based malware that infected the systems used in the printing process. No details about the origin of the attack or the motives behind it were immediately available, and if history is a guide, it may be many months before we know the facts.

Previously, the highest-profile cyberattack of a media company was in 2014 at Sony Pictures Entertainment, and investigating it took months. It was a few days before Thanksgiving, November 24, 2014, when workers at Sony’s Culver City, California, offices were greeted by a cartoon on their computer screens right before the whole system crashed. Then, over a period of several weeks, investigators and Sony’s network engineers were able to determine that a huge theft of data had been going on for months.

The data theft included personal information with Social Security numbers of Sony employees, budget and financial data, movies and movie production schedules—and most embarrassing of all— thousands of confidential emails sent by top executives.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that the government of North Korea had most likely been responsible. There had been outrage in Pyongyang over Sony’s film The Interview, an action-comedy that portrayed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a buffoon. The hackers, calling themselves Guardians of Peace, mounted the attack in apparent revenge.

Attribution can be really hard when it comes to cyberattacks. Digital forensics can sometimes reveal clues left behind by hackers that can lead to their identity, but more often than not, who is responsible cannot be determined. There is also the issue of legal jurisdictions. In the case of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the secretive government of North Korea most certainly did not cooperate.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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