Reporters operating in Taiwan were among a number of journalists and rights activists whose e-mail accounts were compromised in what appears to have been a coordinated series of attacks uncovered this week.
The development comes on the heels of an announcement by Google that it was moving its Chinese-language search service out of China over censorship concerns.
The problems began last Thursday, when some journalists in Taiwan and China found they were unable to access their Yahoo e-mail accounts.
One Taiwan-based target of the apparent attack told the Taipei Times on Monday that his e-mail account had been “hacked” the previous Wednesday or Thursday, adding that his passwords were changed.
The Taipei Times has since learned that two of its former employees, who still work in the news industry, were among those targeted.
“When I first tried to log onto my account and was denied I got a message that said: ‘Important Message About Your Yahoo! Account. We have detected an issue with your account. To access your account, you must contact Yahoo! Customer Care,’” the journalist told the Taipei Times on condition of anonymity for fear of being the target of renewed attacks.
“They then misspelled the US as ‘Unites States,’ which concerned me because I know that Chinese hackers sometimes send fake messages like this and often misspell words,” he said.
“It was Yahoo that decided to shut down accounts that were being targeted. They [hackers] were poking around Yahoo looking at our account information. Someone in Yahoo raised the red flag and they locked the accounts down,” the reporter said.
“Despite the fact that Yahoo is getting some criticism for not being secure enough ... I think it’s fair to say they were wise enough to protect their customers from an attack. But they should explain it further. There were too many of us who were hit to write it off as a coincidence,” he said.
“It is evident that whomever was behind the attacks, whether government or individuals, it originated most likely in China,” he said.
A current employee at the Taipei Times received a similar warning last Friday, informing her that there were signs of “unauthorized access” in her account, which could only be reactivated on Tuesday after a verification telephone call and change of passwords. Yahoo apologized to the user for the delay, saying it had received “unusually high volumes” of alerts.
Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times in Beijing said his Yahoo Plus account had been set without his knowledge to forward to another, unknown, account.
The compromised accounts include those of the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group that Beijing accuses of inciting “separatism” by Uighurs in Xinjiang.
“I suspect a lot of information in my Yahoo account was downloaded,” the group’s spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, told reporters yesterday. He said the e-mail account, which was set up in Sweden, has been inaccessible for a month.
In late 2009 and early this year, several human rights activists and journalists whose work related to China also discovered their Gmail accounts had been set to forward to unfamiliar addresses, without their knowledge.
Google cited the Gmail attacks in January, when it announced a hacking attack on it and more than 20 other firms. Google cited those attacks and censorship concerns in its decision to move its Chinese-language search services last week to Hong Kong.