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Media Outlets: An Easy Target in the Eyes of Hackers

In today’s digital age, media outlets are increasingly becoming prime targets for cybercriminals and hackers. These organisations play a crucial role in providing news, information, and entertainment to the public. However, their significance also makes them susceptible to a wide range of cyber threats, including data breaches, espionage, and misinformation campaigns. In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons as to why media outlets are seen as easy targets by hackers and discuss the importance of secure communications in safeguarding their sensitive information.   

The Vulnerabilities of Media Outlets 

Media outlets, which include newspapers, television and radio stations, online publications, and social media platforms, are entrusted with a vast amount of data and information which is constantly being exchanged globally. 

This wealth of information encompasses news stories and sources, sensitive interviews, unpublished articles, and more. 

These vulnerabilities can make them attractive targets for hackers. Here are some reasons why media outlets are often seen as easy targets:

1. The Value of Information

One primary motivation for hackers is financial gain. Media outlets often handle sensitive information such as confidential sources, unpublished stories and research, subscriber data and employee data. By infiltrating these systems, hackers can gain access to this valuable data. This information can be exploited for direct financial theft or sold on the dark web for a profit.

Hackers may seek to obtain or manipulate this data to further their own interests, be it financial gain, espionage, or disinformation campaigns. Espionage is a motivation for hacking media outlets. Governments, corporations, or other entities may seek to extract sensitive information about political developments, business strategies, or emerging trends before they are publicly disclosed.

By compromising media databases, hackers can gain insights into upcoming news stories or sensitive information, providing a strategic advantage for those with access to the stolen data. A recent example of this is an exiled Russian journalist was hacked using NSO group spyware in September 2023. Pegasus (NSO spyware) is a hacking software that gains complete control over a phone once it has been infected. This provides access to encrypted apps, photographs, and the microphone, which enables the user to utilise the phone as a listening device. The journalist in question, ​​Galina Timchenko, who was due to attend a meeting in Berlin of the main independent Russian media in exile, was quoted as saying, “Through me they could have eavesdropped on this meeting.”

As well as this, sensitive news stories involving hackers can indeed have a significant impact on the stock market, as they may introduce uncertainty and shake investor confidence. If hackers successfully breach the cybersecurity defences of a major corporation, accessing sensitive data such as customer information, financial records, or trade secrets, it can lead to a loss of trust among investors. Share prices of the affected company may plummet as a result of the potential financial losses and damage to its reputation.

2. Influence and Disruption

Hacking media outlets not only grants hackers access to valuable data but also offers them a powerful platform to spread their messages and influence public opinion. The manipulation of news sources allows hackers to potentially shape public discourse and create chaos in various ways, presenting significant challenges for the affected media outlets and society at large.

By gaining control over media channels, the hackers can benefit by injecting false or misleading information into news stories. This misinformation can range from fabricated events to distorted facts, aiming to deceive the public and shape their perceptions. This intentional spreading of false information can have far-reaching consequences such as physiological warfare, leading to widespread confusion and distrust in the media.

3. Lack of Cybersecurity Preparedness

The rapidly evolving landscape of cybersecurity poses significant challenges for many media organisations, which, unfortunately, have been slow to adapt to these emerging threats. Several factors contribute to their vulnerability, ranging from a lack of awareness to the complexities associated with securing vast amounts of sensitive information. As a result of this, many media outlets may not have implemented robust security measures, leaving them susceptible to a variety of cyberattacks.

Cyber threats are continually evolving, with hackers employing increasingly sophisticated techniques. Media organisations that do not regularly update their cybersecurity strategies may find themselves ill-prepared to counter emerging threats, leaving them exposed to new and more advanced attack vectors. 

Secure Communications: A Necessity for Media Outlets

Secure communication is crucial for media outlets to protect their integrity and the information they handle. This extends beyond the newsroom to include communication between journalists, editors, and sources. Here’s why secure communication is essential when it comes to media organisations: 

1. Protecting Sources

Journalists rely on confidential sources to uncover the truth. A secure communication system establishes a foundation of trust between the source and the recipient. When individuals know that their identity and the information they share will be kept confidential, they are more likely to come forward with critical information, even if it involves potential risks. 

2. Preserving Credibility

Having a secure communication system in place also protects against unauthorised access, tampering, or manipulation of information. In today’s world where information can be easily altered, ensuring the integrity of content is paramount for media outlets. This safeguards against misinformation, ensuring that what the audience sees is what the outlet intended to convey.

3. Safeguarding Sensitive Information

Media outlets are entrusted with a wide array of sensitive information, ranging from investigative reports and personal interviews to internal discussions and strategic plans. The nature of this information makes media organisations prime targets for unauthorised access and potential exploitation. Implementing a secure communication system is crucial in preventing such unauthorised access, offering a robust defence against data breaches and ensuring the confidentiality of sensitive content being exchanged. 

Best Practices for Secure Communications

Journalists who travel often whilst investigating news stories may sometimes use unsecure consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp to store and transmit sensitive information. In order to avoid any potential leaks they should protect themselves by using a secure communications app. 

Access controls and user permissions:

  • Implement strict access controls and user permissions. Limit access to sensitive information based on job roles and responsibilities, ensuring that only authorised personnel can access and modify specific data. There should also be a control over who invited users can communicate with when on the system to further prohibit information being shared further than it needs to go. 

Do regular security audits:

  • Conduct regular security audits to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the organisation’s systems. This includes reviewing access logs, monitoring network traffic, and assessing the effectiveness of security measures.

Employee training and awareness:

  • Train employees on cybersecurity best practices and create awareness about the importance of protecting sensitive information. Educate staff on recognising and avoiding phishing attacks, using strong passwords, and reporting suspicious activities.

Secure file storage:

  • Use secure file storage within the secure communications app. Using a secure communications system with robust security features can help protect sensitive documents and data from unauthorised access.

Regularly update software and systems:

  • Keep all software, operating systems, and security systems up to date. Regular updates patch vulnerabilities and ensure that the media outlet is protected against known security threats.

Have an incident Response Plan:

  • Develop and regularly test an incident response plan. This plan should outline procedures to follow in the event of a security breach, including communication strategies, containment measures, and recovery protocols. In the case of an urgent news event, organisations should be able to send alerts to users devices that override do not disturb and silent settings to ensure critical information is received and acted upon in a timely manner.

Media outlets are indeed easy targets in the eyes of hackers due to the value of the information they possess and their vulnerabilities. Secure communication is a necessity to protect the integrity of journalism and the trust of the public. By implementing robust security measures and educating staff; media organisations can significantly reduce their susceptibility to cyber threats and safeguard the vital role they play in society. It’s time for media outlets to take their communications seriously and protect the truth from those who seek to manipulate it.

To see how Salt Communication’s provides media outlets with full control of their communications get your free trial today. 

About Salt Communications 

Salt Communications is a multi-award winning cyber security company providing a fully enterprise-managed software solution giving absolute privacy in mobile communications. It is easy to deploy and uses multi-layered encryption techniques to meet the highest of security standards. Salt Communications offers ‘Peace of Mind’ for Organisations who value their privacy, by giving them complete control and secure communications, to protect their trusted relationships and stay safe. Salt Communications is headquartered in Belfast, N. Ireland, for more information visit Salt Communications.  

References: 

https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news-features/cyber-attacks-media-industry/

https://www.darkreading.com/attacks-breaches/the-media-industry-is-the-most-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks-report-shows

https://www.boozallen.com/c/insight/blog/3-ways-cybercriminals-target-media-outlets.html

https://www.editorandpublisher.com/stories/cyber-threats-to-media-companies-are-on-the-rise,225421

https://sectigostore.com/blog/hacker-motivation-why-do-hackers-hack/ 

https://theweek.com/articles/649222/how-journalism-got-exploited-by-hacker

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/sep/13/exiled-russian-journalist-galina-timchenko-reportedly-hacked-using-nso-group-spyware

https://www.avast.com/c-pegasus-spyware#:~:text=After%20your%20phone%20is%20infected,Group’s%20servers%20in%20the%20cloud
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/04/23/syrian-hackers-claim-ap-hack-that-tipped-stock-market-by-136-billion-is-it-terrorism/

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