One of China’s state-run media agencies was hacked on the eve of the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. While the timing of the reported hack suggests a correlation with the historic event that has been all but wiped from the Chinese public's memory, other evidence suggests it was an attempt at extortion.
The Beijing Times reported Thursday that the front page of Chinanews.cn, the country’s second-most-popular news agency (after Xinhua News), was hacked for more than an hour Wednesday evening. The site was reportedly compromised from approximately 11 p.m. to midnight but experienced continued issues and disruptions well into Thursday morning.
A screenshot of the webpage obtained by the Beijing Times showed that hackers replaced the home page with a one-sentence statement saying that the site would return to normal after an unspecified amount of money was sent to a bank account, leaving an account number from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. The company did not divulge details about the hack or how their system was compromised.
“We are trying our best to get back to being fully operational,” an editor, who asked to remain anonymous told the South China Morning Post. “We have nothing else to release at this moment about the hacking attack.”
The most recent attack demonstrates the country’s larger issue of networks being unequipped to handle cyberattacks and the unwillingness of the government to admit to vulnerabilities. “Most organizations today aren’t aware of how easily they can be exploited,” Bryce Boland, the Asia-Pacific chief technology officer for security firm FireEye, told the South China Morning Post in a separate report. “Particularly in Asia, there’s an attitude that you can’t tell people you were attacked.”
China's central government has become more aware of the risks an easily penetrated network poses and have made announced efforts to ramp up cyber defense forces. This spring, a second draft of China’s national security law was released with a special focus given to Internet security, or “sovereignty in the national Internet space.”
The law aims to protect users and entities not only from “harmful” content, like government criticism, violence and nudity, but also from data breaches and malicious hacks.