In light of recent incidents in which Chinese-language Apple Daily’s Web sites were paralyzed by massive hacker attacks earlier last week, Taiwanese academics and social activists yesterday urged the government to prioritize information security as they expressed concern that China’s cyberespionage agents have infiltrated the databases of Taiwanese media outlets.
Hackers initiated a denial-of-service attack first on the Apple Daily Hong Kong Web site on Tuesday and then on the Apple Daily Taiwan site on Wednesday, involving up to 40 million requests per second.
Although no direct evidence has been found, it is believed that the hackers were Chinese state-sponsored operatives, due to the scale of the attacks.
The attacks happened after Apple Daily Hong Kong covered the pro-democracy campaign in Hong Kong for direct voting in elections for the special administrative district’s chief executive.
National Chiao Tung University computer science professor Lin Ying-ta (林盈達) said that apart from denial-of-service attacks, China’s hackers have almost certainly launched a more intricate attack on reporters, in the form of APT (advanced persistent threat) attacks.
By planting viruses in a reporter’s computer through phishing, the hackers could breach the server of any media outlet once the computer is returned for maintenance, he said, adding that from there, they would be able to erase or tamper with databases as they please.
Lin said that a personal information breach targeting news reporters could result in Chinese government-backed hackers blackmailing them, thereby compromising the integrity of their reports.
Citing US charges against five Chinese cyberwarfare agents who allegedly hacked into the Web sites of five US enterprises last month, Lin said President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration should also assemble an ad-hoc investigation team.
If evidence points to Chinese hackers, the government should take legal actions against the perpetrators to deter future attacks, he said.
Taiwan Reporters Association chairperson Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) said that once reporters’ safety is threatened, they could be forced to report baseless stories under China’s influence.
She also expressed concerns over the future of the nation’s press, saying she worried the news industry would be paralyzed whenever China deems a news story a threat.
“This is not only a matter of freedom of press, but also one of national security,” she said.
She called on the Ma administration to carry out a thorough investigation on the recent cyberattacks. She also urged Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) to make the matter a priority during his meeting this week with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijung (張志軍).
Academia Sinica member Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) said that China’s suspected hacking not only poses a grave threat to the country’s freedom of press, but it also shows China’s true colors as an autocracy.
“I do not think this move will in any way undermine Taiwanese determination to pursue freedom and democracy, and the same for the people in Hong Kong,” he said.
However, he said he is worried about Chinese hackers infiltrating Taiwan’s social movements.