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Monday, February 11, 2013

E-Mails Of Reporters In Myanmar Are Hacked

E-Mails Of Reporters In Myanmar Are Hacked

BANGKOK â€" Several journalists who cover Myanmar said Sunday that they had received warnings from Google that their e-mail accounts might have been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers.”

The warnings began appearing last week, said the journalists, who included employees of Eleven Media, one Myanmar’s leading news organizations; Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based author and expert on Myanmar’s ethnic groups; and a Burmese correspondent for The Associated Press.

Taj Meadows, a Google spokesman in Tokyo, said that he could not immediately provide specifics about the warnings, but said that Google had begun the policy of notifying users of suspicious activity in June.

“I can certainly confirm that we send these types of notices to accounts that we suspect are the targets of state-sponsored attacks,” Mr. Meadows said.

Google has not said how it determines whether an attack is “state sponsored” and does not identify which government may be leading the attacks. Mr. Meadows referred a reporter to an announcement in June by Eric Grosse, the vice president for security engineering at Google, that said that the company could not provide details of its warnings “without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors.”

Ye Htut, a Myanmar government spokesman, and Zaw Htay, a director in the president’s office, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

The news media in Myanmar were highly censored and restricted during five decades of military rule, but the government has lifted many of those restrictions since President Thein Sein came to power nearly two years ago.

The country, formerly known as Burma, now has thriving weekly publications that are beginning to report on subjects that were once considered taboo, like government corruption and the military’s battles with ethnic rebels.

But at least two leading private publications, Eleven Media and The Voice Weekly, a news journal, have suffered cyberattacks. Eleven Media’s Web site and Facebook page were shut down by hackers several times in the past month, said U Than Htut Aung, the chairman and chief executive of the group.

“This is a direct attack on the media and a step backward for democracy,” he said.

Eleven Media Group posted an article over the weekend saying that the editor of The Voice Weekly and the correspondent for the Japanese news agency Kyodo had also received warnings from Google.

Some journalists speculated that attempts to hack into e-mail accounts might be linked to the conflict in northern Myanmar, where ethnic Kachin rebels have engaged in fierce fighting with government troops in recent weeks for control over territory near the Chinese border.

Eleven Media was among the first publications to report that the Myanmar military was deploying aircraft to attack the Kachin rebels, a policy that the government denied until reports and photographs appeared in Eleven Media.

“It’s their most sensitive state security issue,” said Mr. Lintner, the expert on ethnic groups.

Mr. Than Htut Aung of Eleven Media said that he had heard reports from his staff that members of the Myanmar military were “very angry” with their reporting on the Kachin conflict, but he added that it was too early to say whether the military had a role in the cyberattacks.

The Myanmar military has received training on cyberwarfare from Russia, Mr. Lintner said.

Cyberattacks are not new to the Burmese news media. During military rule, news Web sites run by exiled Burmese activists in Thailand and elsewhere were attacked numerous times by hackers.

Wai Moe contributed reporting from Laiza, Myanmar.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 11, 2013, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: E-Mails Of Reporters In Myanmar Are Hacked.