Google’s hack attack warning to US journalists hints at increasing threat to press freedom

This is not the first time Google has reached out to specific individuals, announcing that their personal email accounts potentially are subject to targeted hacking.

Written by Radhika Iyengar | Published:November 25, 2016 5:51 pm
google, google hacking, mail hacking, hacking, gmail hacking, mail account hacking, gmail account hacking, freedom of press, us freedom of press, Paul Krugman, tech news In the message, Google began with a straightforward, disconcerting warning: “Government-backed attackers may be trying to steal your password.”

On Wednesday, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate and a distinguished journalist tweeted this:

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This message has been delivered into the inbox of prominent reporters and high-profile individuals in the United States including Politico’s Julia Ioffe, The Atlantic’s Jon Lovett and former US diplomat Michael McFaul.

In the message, Google began with a straightforward, disconcerting warning: “Government-backed attackers may be trying to steal your password.” The media giant also relayed that it chose not to point out how it detected potential malware/attack, since that would inform the hackers.

This of course, is not the first time Google has reached out to specific individuals, announcing that their personal email accounts potentially are subject to targeted hacking. In October this year, Google had sent out a similar warning to Russian activists and journalists, informing them that their was a possibility of a security breach by government-sponsored cyber-terrorists.

The service that alarmed users when there were government-backed hackers trying to penetrate their accounts was launched by Google in 2012. This notification service was developed after the media giant was hit by a highly sophisticated attack from China in 2010, reportedly done by a band of “government-sponsored” hackers, who stole sensitive information and passwords of Chinese journalists, Chinese human rights activists and U.S. government officials. Post this incident, there were other targeted attacks as well which led Google to pull up its socks and strengthen its protection services.

This recent warning by Google is a strong indicator that journalists in America are under threat. Ergo, free press in America is under threat.

Trump has been combative of the U.S. press, particularly those who have opposed him. For instance, he has ferociously ridiculed and berated The New York Times, a paper that in his opinion, wrote “nasty” things about him. In addition, he has publically encouraged Russian espionage in the past, emboldening the autocratic foreign power to interfere in American affairs. In July 2016, at a press conference in Florida, Trump asked Russia to hack into his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton’s account: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing…I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens.”

There have also been rumours floating that the U.S. Elections were hacked by Russia, to tip the scale in favour of Trump. While there is no substantial evidence whether the Russians had intentions or were capable of hacking, eight days before the election day, according to The New York Times, the White House had reached out to the Russian government with concerns regarding wrongful cyberactivity detected that was “targeting U.S. State election-related systems.”

In Trump’s era, American journalists do fear that the freedom of the press will be challenged. In fact, multi-award winning journalist, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour raised her concerns at the recent Committee to Protect Journalists Award ceremony, reiterating how the press in the United States was increasingly being threatened. While accepting the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, she said, “I never thought in a million years that I would be standing up here after all the times I’ve participated in this ceremony, appealing really for the freedom and the safety of American journalists at home.”

Amanpour had pulled out the incident about Trump’s reaction-tweet to the protests across the country post the election result about “professional protesters incited by the media”. Amanpour stated that Trump’s tweet possibly foreshadowed the future of journalism in America, comparing it to dictatorial countries like Russia and North Korea. She remarked, “We are not there, but postcard from the world: this is how it goes with authoritarians like Sisi, Erdoğan, Putin, the Ayatollahs, Duterte, et al…First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating—until they suddenly find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. Then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prison—and then who knows?”

America has always prided itself in being the embodiment of free speech and free press. However, the recent warning sent by Google is making the situation look murkier. Would there be a change in the status quo?