Two Major Media Outlets Fall Prey to Hackers

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC were victims of hackers. The attacks show insecurity on major media platforms that can potentially be fixed.


Once again, media outlets have been targeted by attackers seeking to gain attention and disseminate false information. The Wall Street Journal's Facebook page was hacked July 20, and in a separate incident, had some of its short link addresses redirected, according to a report on July 21.

The Wall Street Journal noted on its Facebook page early July 20 that it was aware of the compromise and immediately deleted the offending posts. It is not clear at who is responsible for the latest Wall Street Journal Facebook incident.

The social networking pages and feeds of media outlets have been targeted in the past by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group loosely associated with the Syrian government. The SEA was able to infiltrate the Twitter accounts of CNN in January.

Security vendor Websense reported July 21 that in MSNBC's case an attacker redirected short links delivered by the Bitly service. Bitly enables sites to shorten addresses with the use of an API key. In the MSNBC attack, attackers were likely able to obtain MSNBC's key in order to create the redirection.

The attacks on The Wall Street Journal and show insecurity on major media platforms that can potentially be mitigated, according to security experts.

Bob Stratton, general partner at Mach37, told eWEEK that, over time, a variety of ways have been shown by which one might compromise a Facebook account, and the Facebook security team has generally been fairly quick to address them.

"I think my question in the case of a compromised account would be to ask whether that account had log-in approvals turned on," Stratton said. "That's the thing that requires a code to be entered from a phone handset or other app for two-factor authentication."

In the case of the MSNBC Bitly compromise, Aaron Higbee, CTO and co-founder at PhishMe, told eWEEK that using shortened URLs in phishing emails isn't new. Organizations can sign up for an account with URL-shortening services and receive an API key that gives them the ability to create their own shortened links, he explained. Organizations sign up for the API key so they can get analytics on who clicks their shortened links.

"What is clever about this particular attack is the attacker found the MSNBC key online, or was able to social-engineer it from an employee," Higbee said. "In fact, there are many public examples of developers making this mistake."

For better security, organizations should treat API keys as passwords, Higbee said. He also recommended that organizations search the Internet to make sure that their development teams have not accidentally leaked out API keys via Websites such as or

"Developers with access to API keys will come and go, so make sure that important API keys are regularly changed," Higbee said. "Lastly, closely examine emails with the suspicion they deserve. If the email is using an emotional trigger to get you to click a link, there is a good chance it's malicious."

Erik Cabetas, managing partner at security consulting firm Include Security, told eWEEK that attacks against major media companies are increasingly common and he's pessimistic that the situation will change any time soon.

"I'd like to pretend that there is some quick prescriptive advice for media companies to stop getting hacked, but there isn't," Cabetas said. "It's a pervasive problem that affects all major media outlets, and this situation won't change short of sweeping changes to the way risk is managed in media companies."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.