The New York Times and Twitter Inc. had their Internet registrations hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, rendering at least parts of their sites inaccessible, said a person with knowledge of the companies’ investigations.
The Syrian group disrupted traffic to the websites by hacking into Melbourne IT Ltd. (MLB), the company that controls the registration of the domains nytimes.com and twitter.co.uk, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter and asked not to be identified. That allowed hackers to control traffic of Internet users trying to reach those sites.
Some users reported being redirected to the Syrian group’s sites. Many were simply unable to access the pages at all. The Syrian Electronic Army, which backs the country’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, has also claimed responsibility for hacking the Washington Post earlier this month and the Financial Times in early May, redirecting readers to its own websites and videos.
A Twitter user claiming to represent the SEA posted images today of a set of altered domain registrations for the Times, Twitter and the Huffington Post’s U.K. site. The Times data listed a Syrian e-mail address as the administrator’s contact information.
The New York Times suspects that hackers rendered its site unavailable for some users beginning about 3 p.m. New York time, Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for New York Times Co., wrote in an e-mail.
On its website, Twitter said its domain registration provider “experienced an issue in which it appears DNS records for various organizations were modified,” including the twimg.com domain it uses to host images. The original domain record for that site has since been restored, and no user information was affected, it said.
The Huffington Post, owned by AOL Inc. (AOL:US), also experienced a hack attempt and “minimal disruption of service,” said Rhoades Alderson, a spokesman for the online publisher.
Security officials at both the New York Times and Twitter are investigating how the hackers were able to alter the domain-registration data, the person familiar with the investigations said. The hackers could have gained access to Melbourne IT’s corporate network through a breach or stolen the passwords of administrators at the U.S. companies who have authority to change the data.
Tony Smith, a spokesman for Melbourne IT, based in Melbourne, didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail and e-mail seeking comment.
While Twitter’s site was operating normally tonight, twitter.co.uk was inaccessible.
The Times has been increasingly focusing on its website for growth as the industry reels from a print-advertising slump. Digital subscribers to the Times and its international edition increased 35 percent to 699,000 at the end of the last quarter. The company averaged about 14 new paying online readers every hour from the beginning of January to the end of June.
On Aug. 14, the newspaper’s website and e-mail systems crashed for more than two hours because of an internal malfunction with its servers.
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