NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hackers claimed Tuesday evening that they were behind an outage on the New York Times website — the second such outage this month.
The newspaper released a statement and a tweet acknowledging that many users have had difficulty accessing the site. The paper said it was working to fix the site.
“Our initial assessment is the outage is most likely the result of a malicious external attack,” the newspaper said.
A hacker group calling itself the “Syrian Electronic Army” later claimed responsibility.
The newspaper has used an external site to publish news reports on stories such as the possibility of U.S. military action in Syria.
The cyberattacks come at a time when the Obama administration is trying to bolster its case for such military action. The Administration said President Bashar Assad’s government is responsible for an alleged deadly chemical attack on civilians. Assad denies the claim.
“Media is going down—” warned the Syrian Electronic Army in a Twitter message before the websites stopped working, adding that it also had taken over Twitter and the Huffington Post U.K.
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said the disruption was caused by a “malicious external attack” that affected its website and email, while Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser said viewing of images and photos were sporadically affected. Huffington Post U.K. did not respond to requests for comment.
Both Twitter and the Times said they were resolving the attack, which actually hit an Australian company that registered their domain names, Melbourne IT. The firm did not respond to requests for comment. Tracking the hack even further, computer forensics from security firm Renesys Corp. traced the Internet protocol addresses back to the same ones as the Syrian Electronic Army’s website sea.sy, which the firm said has been hosted out of Russia since June.
The Syrian Electronic Army has, in recent months, taken credit for Web attacks on media targets that it sees as sympathetic to Syria’s rebels, including prior attacks at the New York Times, along with the Washington Post, Agence France-Press, 60 Minutes, CBS News, National Public Radio, The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera English and the BBC.
FBI spokeswoman Jenny Shearer at the Washington D.C. headquarters said the agency has no comment on Tuesday’s attack.
Tuesday’s victims were hit by a technique known as “DNS hijacking,” according to Robert Masse, president of Montreal, Canada-based security startup Swift Identity.
The technique works by tampering with domain name servers that translate easy-to-remember names like “nytimes.com” into the numerical Internet Protocol addresses (such as “184.108.40.206”) which computers use to route data across the Internet.
Domain name servers work as the Web’s phone books, and if attackers gains access to one, they can funnel users trying to access sites like The New York Times or Twitter to whichever rogue server they please. Masse said DNS attacks are popular because they bypass a website’s security to attack the very architecture of the Internet itself.
“Companies spend a lot of time, money, resources and defending their servers, but they forget about auxiliary infrastructure that is integrally connected to their networks, like DNS.”
Cybersecurity experts said hijacking attacks are preventable if website administrators are meticulous about what code they bring into their sites.
“As this incident illustrates, any time you integrate third party code into your site, it presents a new attack vector for hackers. You must not only ensure your own code is secure, but you must also rely upon third parties’ security practices,” said Aaron Titus, a privacy officer and attorney at New York-based privacy software firm Identity Finder.
The Times’ website also went down on Wednesday, July 14. On that occasion, the newspaper said it believed the outage stemmed from an internal issue.
The outage affected the Times’ main news site, along with the company’s corporate sites and its email system.
Like other newspapers, The Times has focused its growth strategy on digital products in recent years. The newspaper is attempting to offset drops in print subscription revenue by boosting its ranks of digital subscribers. As of June 30, the Times had 738,000 digital subscribers, representing a nearly 40 percent increase from a year ago. Revenue from digital subscriptions in the April-June quarter rose to $38.3 million, up 44 percent from a year ago.
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