SEATTLE — Middle Eastern hackers infiltrated a popular Internet news delivery service, giving them possible access to some of the largest U.S. news sites on Thursday.
An online group called The Syrian Electronic Army, representing supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, hacked the Internet service of Outbrain, a content-recommendation company whose software “widget” is embedded in the websites of several major publications.
As a result, the websites operated by three Outbrain clients, The Washington Post, Time and CNN, contained messages that referred to the SEA. USA TODAY is also an Outbrain client, but its site was not affected.
That development, along with the hack of Twitter accounts of several New York Post reporters on Tuesday and the website outage of The New York Times on Wednesday, is being viewed by some security experts as evidence that U.S. news outlets have become targets for nation-state adversaries of the U.S. The Times attributed its outage to a server problem.
“It’s starting to look like there’s an organized campaign targeting major U.S. media outlets,” says Tom Kellermann, Trend Micro vice preside
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In a statement, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, managing editor of The Washington Post, confirmed that “some articles on our website were re-directed to the Syrian Electronic Army’s site for a period of about 30 minutes” Thursday morning.ersecurity.
Garcia-Ruiz pointed out a tweet by SEA that claimed it used Outbrain as a vehicle for the attack. “We have taken defensive measures and removed the offending module,” Garcia-Ruiz wrote. “At this time, we believe there are no other issues affecting the site.”
CNN confirmed that an Outbrain headline widget used by international site CNNi.com ran headlines referring to SEA. The widget was removed. Its main website, CNN.com, wasn’t affected. “The security of a vendor plug-in that appeared on CNNi.com was briefly compromised (Thursday). The issue was quickly identified and (the) plug-in disabled,” said CNN spokesman Matt Dornic.
In a statement, Time Inc. said, “Content provided by Outbrain that appeared on some of our sites was impacted by the hacking activity at Outbrain. We’re no longer running that content.”
Outbrain issued this statement: “We are aware that Outbrain was hacked earlier today. In an effort to protect our publishers and readers, we took down service as soon as it was apparent. The breach now seems to be secured and the hackers blocked out, but we are keeping the service down for a little longer until we can be sure it’s safe to turn it back on securely. We are working hard to prevent future attacks of this nature.”