The New York Times ran a front page story that revealed its online operations have been repeatedly attacked, apparently by people and organizations in China. The real news about the attacks is that they were not successful. During a period when the U.S. government and the heads of large companies fret about breaches of their online websites, emails and data stores, the Times proved that these worries may be overstated.
The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) has very modest revenue compared to Fortune 500 firms, and certainly smaller than those of most of the big agencies of the U.S. government. Presumably these organizations have more sophisticated and expensive means to keep hackers out of their systems, even if they are made by organizations as well-funded as the Chinese military, which can put huge numbers of people to the task of making all-out assaults
The timing of the attacks on the Times makes sense. They happened when the paper did a series of articles about the wealth accumulated by family and friends of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. The Times almost certainly will continue with investigations into other senior officials in the People’s Republic, which means that the reputations of some of China’s most powerful people will be tested, and those tests may erode their places in the government hierarchy.
In the Times article about the attacks, its reporters wrote:
After surreptitiously tracking the intruders to study their movements and help erect better defenses to block them, The Times and computer security experts have expelled the attackers and kept them from breaking back in.
Other computer securities experts will examine how the Times tracked and fought these attacks. This will add to the arsenal of means to defend other U.S. interests from future risks.
Some of China’s universities and branches of its military almost certainly threw everything they had to take down the Times website and its online operations. They failed, which defuses some of the concerns that China can ruin the operations of other U.S. organizations.