Tech tapas: Hacking the New York Times, and the government. Plus did Mega just morph back into Megaupload?

Thursday tech tapas, in which one thing leads to another:

• The New York Times reports that Chinese hackers have accessed its computers for the past few months, coinciding with its articles on the wealth of a Chinese leader’s family. The newspaper said hackers stole reporters’ passwords and accessed documents before it was able to block and “expel” them. In October, GMSV mentioned that China was blocking access to the New York Times online because of its articles about the hidden wealth of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Bloomberg, which was writing articles about the assets of another Chinese leader, had also reportedly been blocked by China last year, and the NYT reports that hackers also targeted Bloomberg.

The hackers used custom malware — they installed 45 pieces — to snoop around the computers belonging to New York Times employees. The investigator hired by the newspaper found that Symantec software detected malware and quarantined it only one time, something Forbes points out is a big embarrassment for the Silicon Valley company that makes Norton antivirus products. A Symantec spokesman appears to comment on the Forbes story, saying it offers solutions that go beyond just anti-virus software: “Turning on only the signature-based anti-virus components of endpoint solutions alone are not enough in a world that is changing daily from attacks and threats.”

• Speaking of hackers, Politico has a piece on whether hacktivists harm their causes when they go too far. For example, Anonymous over the weekend attacked a government website (and threatened to release sensitive information about the U.S. Justice Department) in honor of Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who killed himself a couple of weeks ago. Accused of downloading millions of documents from a subscription-only academic database, Swartz was facing up to 35 years in prison in what his family and supporters say was an overly aggressive prosecution. (See GMSV coverage.)

Some Internet activists say extreme actions “puts the rest of us under a microscope. We have to be much more careful about everything we say lest it looks like we support illegal behaviors,” Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Politico. But “it’s a very difficult line, because some civil disobedience is definitely warranted,” said Public Knowledge co-founder Gigi Sohn.

• And speaking of issues over which the government has been criticized, there’s Megaupload, the file-sharing site that was shut down by the FBI last year over copyright-infringement charges. Its New Zealand-based founder, Kim Dotcom, is awaiting a decision over whether he can be extradited to the United States to face charges.

Two weeks ago he launched a new site called Mega, which he touts as a cloud storage service with encryption and supposedly no way for anyone to access a user’s files. Dotcom recently told Ars Technica, “this startup is probably the most scrutinized by lawyers in the history of tech startups.” One of his lawyers also said, “you have companies like Dropbox and Google with Drive with materially similar technologies, and they are in business and they’re thriving — and Mega adds encryption.”

Now Wired reports that there’s a third-party search engine that allows Mega users to voluntarily place links to files hosted on Mega. The engine is quite a useful tool for piracy, Wired says, and the downloads are fast to boot. A lawyer for Dotcom says his client was not involved with the search engine.


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