June 21, 2013
Sharyl Attkisson
Sharyl Attkisson (John P. Filo/CBS News)

In January, the New York Times disclosed that Chinese hackers had penetrated the company’s computer systems. In making the disclosure, the New York Times quoted officials within the organization and also took the critical step of identifying the company — Mandiant — that had assisted the newspaper’s attempts to repel the cyber-intruders.

Last week, CBS News confirmed reports that the computer of investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson had been compromised:

“A cyber security firm hired by CBS News has determined through forensic analysis that Sharyl Attkisson’s computer was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions late in 2012. Evidence suggests this party performed all access remotely using Attkisson’s accounts. While no malicious code was found, forensic analysis revealed an intruder had executed commands that appeared to involve search and exfiltration of data.
This party also used sophisticated methods to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity, and alter system times to cause further confusion.
CBS News is taking steps to identify the responsible party and their method of access.”

The Erik Wemple Blog has made several requests for the name of that cyber security firm. CBS News, however, has declined to identify it.

This point matters. Whoever examined Attkisson’s computers — she says she observed strange behavior on both home and work machines — can explain in detail the nature of the intrusions, the patterns, the sophistication behind the hacking and perhaps some informed speculation on what sort of entity is behind it all. Such disclosures are an important measure of transparency for a news organization, too.

We have evidence, too, that Attkisson and CBS News know far more than we do, too. In an appearance on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” earlier this week, Attkisson said, “I think I know” the source of the hacking. She then chatted with the host, Bill O’Reilly, about when she’d break that story. Inquiries to CBS News and Attkisson on that front haven’t been fruitful. Perhaps the network is planning a big story; perhaps it’s hoping that people will forget about it.

Here’s hoping that the latter scenario doesn’t unfold. In a May radio interview, Attkisson was asked whether the targeting of her hardware could be related to the government snooping that descended on Fox News reporter James Rosen. She responded that it could have been.

Speculation exists on the provenance of the hacks:

 

 

 

These people, and many others, deserve an answer from CBS News. Who did this? Failing that, how about an explanation of why it can’t provide that information, along with the name of the computer firm that did the forensics? It’s all a case of journalism fundamentals: Finish off the story.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.