The Associated Press reports that Russian hackers targeted more than 200 journalists globally in the same way they allegedly went after U.S. politicians and intelligence figures.
The AP said on December 22 that its investigation found that the hacker group known as Fancy Bear had tried to break into Gmail inboxes of at least 200 reporters, publishers, and bloggers.
Analyzing data from the cybersecurity firm Secureworks and interviewing more than 40 journalists, AP said the hacking started back in mid-2014 and continued as recently as a few months ago.
Natalia Gevorkyan, a Russian columnist who reviewed the data, said the hacking campaign appeared aimed at collecting private e-mails, “which they can use as leverage for later.”
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Fancy Bear acted on behalf of the Russian government when it allegedly intervened in the U.S. presidential election, a charge the Kremlin denies.
Among the list of 200 targeted journalists were some 50 foreign correspondents, including the former New York Times Moscow bureau chief, Ellen Barry.
According to the AP, some 50 colleagues of Barry at the newspaper were targeted with phishing e-mails by Fancy Bear in late 2014. The New York Times would only confirm that its employees had received malicious messages.
Also targeted, AP reported, was Eliot Higgins, who said phishing attempts on his open-source journalism site Bellingcat seemed to begin "once we started really making strong statements about MH17" -- the Malaysian airliner that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people abroad.
Bellingcat had gathered evidence that the plane was destroyed by a Russian missile. Russia denies that, but a Dutch-led investigation determined in 2016 that MH17 was shot down from territory held by Russia-backed separatists by a BUK antiaircraft system provided by the Russian military.
AP said Fancy Bear also went after Adrian Chen, whose story on the Internet Research Agency exposed how this Russian “troll factory” manufactured fictitious Americans to litter social media with partisan rhetoric leading up to the 2016 election.
Eight days after Chen’s story was published on June 2, 2015, Fancy Bear tried to break into his account.
Many Russian journalists who were targeted by the hackers said they had long been taking extra security measures, locking their online accounts down with second passwords and relying on encrypted messaging apps.