Bloomberg News

N.Y. Times Restoring Website After Syrian Group's Disruption

August 28, 2013

New York Times, Twitter Web-Address Data Hacked by Syrian Group

Pedestrians pass in front of The New York Times Co. offices in New York. The New York Times suspects that hackers rendered its site unavailable for some users beginning about 3 p.m. New York time yesterday, Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for New York Times Co., wrote in an e-mail. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The New York Times is working to make its website available again for all readers after it was disrupted by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army in an exploit that also affected Twitter Inc.

The group disrupted traffic to the websites by hacking yesterday into registration-services provider Melbourne IT Ltd. (MLB), which handles the online addresses of nytimes.com and twitter.co.uk, according to Tony Smith, a spokesman for the Melbourne-based company. The Times instructed readers who can’t access its home page to go to an alternate site.

Some users initially 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 this month and the Financial Times in early May, redirecting readers to its own websites and videos.

“The credentials of a Melbourne IT reseller (username and password) were used to access a reseller account on Melbourne IT’s systems,” Smith wrote in an e-mail. He said the login information was obtained through phishing, a technique used to obtain private data by imitating legitimate websites.

It may take time before all users can get normal access to the newspaper’s site, Smith said. Times employees have been instructed to use caution when sending sensitive e-mails, the newspaper said.

Caching Quirk

A quirk in the way that domain information is updated across the Internet has meant that the Times website is still inaccessible to many users today even though the site is functioning normally. Many corporations and browsers on personal computers cache domain data for 24 hours to speed up connections, preventing access to the news site until those caches are cleared.

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. While Twitter’s site operated normally, twitter.co.uk was inaccessible for some users.

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. The site was working normally today, he said.

AP Hack

Unidentified hackers hijacked the Associated Press Twitter account in April, sending stock markets down 1 percent in a matter of seconds by posting a false claim of an attack on the White House. The fake message -- saying that President Barack Obama had been injured after his residence was bombed -- followed repeated attempts by hackers to gain access to AP reporters’ passwords, the news agency said in a report. While the Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for the intrusion, that couldn’t be confirmed, the AP said.

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.

New York Times Co. dropped 1.4 percent to $11.42 at 12:52 p.m. in New York. The shares had gained 36 percent this year through yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Riley in Washington at michaelriley@bloomberg.net; Sarah Frier in New York at sfrier1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net


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