High-profile news organizations are the top targets of hackers working for or in support of governments, according to a report authored by a Canadian security researcher and a Google engineer.

Journalists media organization are “massively over-represented” among targets of data theft,” according to a report authored by Shane Huntley, security software engineer at Google and Morgan Marquis-Boire, senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The Citizen Lab studies information controls such as network surveillance and content filtering.
Marquis-Boire and Huntley’s report was presented at a Black Hat conference in Singapore last Friday.

“…we see state-sponsored targeting and we see it regardless of region…” Huntley told the news wire agency Reuters.

Last year, the New York Times, Financial Times and Forbes were hit by online attacks by the Syrian Electronic Army, a pro-Syrian government group of hackers.

Huntley told Reuters, that Chinese hackers also recently gained access to a major Western news company. The hackers used a bogus questionnaire that was emailed to staff members of the organization.

He said big organizations are not the only targets. He referred to a spate of attacks on small news organizations, bloggers and citizen journalists who were sent infected email attachments meant to look like human rights documents.

He said Google monitors and tracks the attacks but he did not disclose how the browser company is able to do track such attacks.

However, Washington, D.C.-based security researcher Ashkan Soltani earlier said in a Tweeter post that nine of the top 25 news Web sites rely on Google for hosted email services according to Internet traffic volume figures from Web information company Alexa.

Google also owns Web site analysis firm VirusTotal, Reuters said.

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