The New York Times website was down this week for nearly two days thanks to a “malicious external attack” by group of hackers believed to be the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA). The NYT breach was the latest in a series of attacks on news and social media websites—including the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, CNN and Twitter—that exposes some vulnerabilities in internet security.
Some of the sites, including NYT, were apparently accessed through a third party company. Melbourne IT is an Australian domain name company that numerous websites use to register their sites. The hackers were able to gain access to the username and password to one of Melbourne IT’s sales partners.
Individual sites can take precautions to ensure their own safety, but what about the security of third parties like Melbourne IT? What could have prevented the hackers from accessing the sites? And is there any way for websites to be sure of their security when they have to rely on third party companies? What kind of damage could this type of hacking do? Is there any way to find out for sure who the hackers are? Or to stop them?
Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer of SANS Technology Institute, a cybersecurity research and education organization headquartered in Maryland.