Several journalists Wednesday reported receiving notifications from Google about “government-backed attackers” attempting to steal their passwords. Julia Ioffe, a prominent magazine writer who did a much-trafficked profile of Melania Trump this year, is among those who have received this particular alert.
Contacted about the matter, Ioffe passed along screenshots of the Google missives:
Ezra Klein, editor in chief of Vox, tweeted out his encounter with the alert:
Well, this is a scary message to get from Google: pic.twitter.com/ZgUIft54h5
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) November 23, 2016
As did Greg Ferenstein of the Ferenstein Wire:
well, that's interesting: pic.twitter.com/Dj1Kd7s23d
— Greg Ferenstein (@ferenstein) November 23, 2016
Garance Franke-Ruta of Yahoo News responded to Ferenstein:
@ferenstein I got the same thing today and so did several others I know
— Garance Franke-Ruta (@thegarance) November 23, 2016
These notices arrive just as journalists and digerati everywhere are freaking out about whether they can ever again share a candid thought over email and other forms of electronic communication. While journalists generally spend presidential election campaigns scrutinizing candidates, 2016 saw their own conduct come under scrutiny via hacked emails posted on WikiLeaks. Such correspondence between reporters and the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee showed reporters engaged in embarrassing forms of favor-currying behavior. The director of national intelligence’s office and homeland security department issued a statement pointing the finger at a foreign power: “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.”
Just last week, the New York Times convened a large meeting for its journalists on how to deal with safety and security threats on the Internet and non-Internet.
Klein tells the Erik Wemple Blog that he’s preparing to check with Google on the matter. This latest development comes after a campaign season in which Klein received anti-Semitic abuse, along with his colleagues at Vox — “everyone at Vox got anti-Semitic [mail] sent to their homes,” he reports. Yet Klein cautions that he doesn’t have “reason to think these things are related.” More: “I read Google’s message much more as Russian or Chinese or Iranian or [pick your country] is trying to affect US politics by hacking the accounts of journalists. But that’s just my read – I have no real info here.”
As for Ioffe, she filed a police report over the anti-Semitic abuse that followed her GQ profile of Melania Trump. When this blog asked her whether she’d checked with Google on this matter, she replied via email, “No. I have actual work to do. F[—] these guys. They’re tangling with the wrong Jewess. And you can quote me on that.” She also passed along a link to this tweet:
How shocking and unpredictable: Trump wins the election, and Moscow becomes exponentially more brazen.
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) November 23, 2016
A spokesperson for Google indicated that the screen shot shared by Klein on Twitter appeared authentic, as did the one sent to this blog by Ioffe. The company issued this statement:
Since 2012, we’ve notified users when we believe their Google Accounts are being targeted by government-backed attackers. We send these warnings out of an abundance of caution — they do not indicate that a user’s account has already been compromised or that a more widespread attack is occurring when they receive the notice. Anyone that receives one should follow the instructions in the warning, and we further recommend that all users routinely do a Google Account Security Checkup at g.co/securitycheckup[g.co].