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Inside Forbes: After a Digital Attack, a Story of Recovery and What It Means

Feb 18 2014, 8:06am CST | by

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Inside Forbes: After a Digital Attack, a Story of Recovery and What It Means

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Inside Forbes: After a Digital Attack, a Story of Recovery and What It Means came under digital attack last week. It began Thursday and continued into Friday. On Twitter, the Syrian Electronic Army , supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, claimed responsibility, just as it did with attacks on Facebook, BBC News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and others (Kickstarter  was hit by still-unidentified hackers as well). Late Friday morning, FORBES received an email with a screen grab purporting to show information captured from our publishing database. The author implied the attack would stop if “fees” were paid.

It was a difficult 48 hours. A discussion with the FBI was sobering, at times a bit scary. Most SEA attacks on media organizations involve public defacement of a Web site. This time, data was allegedly collected (that was confirmed on Sunday). A hacker, perhaps more than one, gained access to our publishing platform through spear phishing  – a series of emails to our staffers that came from a news source that was previously targeted by the SEA. Unwittingly, passwords were provided that compromised the backend of our publishing system, which supports FORBES editors and reporters, 1,200 contributors and our BrandVoice partners.

We took quick action on Thursday to lock down the platform, limiting our ability to publish. We made what we thought were corrective adjustments, then reopened the system for staffers and contributors to continue their work. Hours later, it became clear the attack was continuing. Once again we locked down the platform, making additional modifications. It was reopened for the overnight hours. Friday morning brought more of the same, so we decided to shutdown the normal publishing process for the holiday weekend.

On both Thursday and Friday (and throughout the weekend), itself remained continuously available to the public. Traffic on Thursday was normal for a weekday, as it was for a Friday before a Monday holiday (archival content accounts for an increasing share of our usage). On Friday, we took steps to map computers in our New York office to a “safe haven” server so staff reporters could publish. We set up a special email box for contributors to drop their posts. FORBES producers would grab them and publish them to the contributor’s page. Our loyal contributors eagerly participated in the make-shift process.

Communication with our audience and contributors became critical, though separating threat from fact took time. We used our Twitter and Facebook pages to notify registered readers  of that their email addresses may have been exposed (again, it’s now been confirmed they were). We also published a headline on the home page. Even though passwords used by consumers to log on to were encrypted, we strongly encouraged that they be changed when sign-on became available again. We were in contact with contributors through email and other means.

We’ve moved methodically these past four years to build a unique content and publishing model for the era of social media. There are challenges and risks associated with a platform that supports a distributed workforce using a distributed set of tools in a social news environment. Certain consumer-friendly features, such as social log-ons and plug-ins that enhance the news product, carry their own vulnerabilities. The rewards of innovation are significant. For FORBES, they’ve included a far more informative and engaging news experience befitting a new medium. Our growing audience suggests consumers agree. The Web is a dynamic, self-correcting mechanism. Last week, we experienced its dark side. As always, we learn, adjust and move forward. Our goal: to be open and secure.

This morning starts a multi-step recovery process that emphasizes on-going communication with our audience, partners, staffers and contributors. We’ve started a process to notify each registered user whose email address and encrypted password was exposed. Certain site features (log-on functionality) will also be unavailable for a short time.

Digital attacks experienced by FORBES and others raise the serious issues of security and privacy. Staff reporters Andy Greenberg , an expert on computer security, and Kashmir Hill , an expert on privacy matters, will continue their work in these areas. Their stories will frequently reference or involve the digital attack on FORBES. As always with our content model, Andy and Kashmir have free reign to post to their individual pages, with their editor available for guidance. Our hope is that consumers, journalists and the publishing industry will follow their work, gaining insight into the challenges and opportunity presented by digital media.

Source: Forbes


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Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.




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