Myanmar govt denies breaching reporters' Gmail accounts

Myanmar govt denies breaching reporters' Gmail accounts

Summary: The government denies initiating the cyberattack after Myanmar-based journalists received warnings from Google that "state-sponsored attackers were trying to breach their e-mail accounts.

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Journalists reporting on Myanmar received warnings from Google saying they were the targets of "state-sponsored attackers", but the country's government has denied it is behind the possible cyberattack.

The Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday at least 12 reporters received warning messages from Google last week when they tried to access their Gmail accounts. The message said hackers "may be attempting to compromise your account or your computer", it added.

The reporters who received the warning include correspondents for AP, Agence France-Prese, Reuters and Kyodo News, journalists working for Yangon-based The Voice Weekly and Eleven Media Group, and a Thailand-based author Bertil Linter, who had written extensively on Myanmar.

"It's difficult to pinpoint which group has done that, but it is very obvious that those who did that do not appreciate freedom of expression and the democratic reform process in the country," said Wai Phyo, chief editor at Eleven Media's Weekly Eleven news journal. "We can only assume that some of them could be from the military."

When approached by AP, Taj Meadows, a spokesperson for Google, confirmed the company issued warnings to protect users. However, he declined to disclose how Google knew the activity is "state-sponsored" without giving away information which would help attackers avoid detection.

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Myanmar government denies breaching reporters' Gmail accounts, after Google issued warning last week the locally-based journalists were being targeted.

Meadows added users in other countries also received similar warnings since the company began issuing them in June 2012, but declined to identify the victims or culprits of these hacking attempts.

Government denies allegations
Ye Htut, Myanmar's presidential spokesperson and deputy information minister, denied the allegations though. "There is no state-sponsored attack on individual accounts. That's not a policy of our government," he said in the report.

He also called on Google to identify those responsible as "the vague reference to state-sponsored attackers hurts the image of the government".

The minister added he received one of Google's warnings when accessing his own Gmail account on Monday, a week after most of the Myanmar-based reporters received theirs.

Myanmar is regularly listed in the "Enemies of the Internet" list compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, as its government frequently blocks access to the Web, Gmail and other e-mail services. However, the country has been opening up to the outside world after Thein Sein was elected president in 2011, AP noted.

The Southeast Asian country has experienced a string of attacks recently. According to the report, the Web site of the president's office was shut down last week by hackers and Ye Htut said it was traced to an Asian country, but the attacker's identity remained unclear. 

Last week, Anonymous Indonesia also breached a Myanmar tourism site and issued a warning to the Burmese government not to expel and oppress the Rohingya race.

Topics: Security, Google, Government

Ellyne Phneah

About Ellyne Phneah

Elly grew up on the adrenaline of crime fiction and it spurred her interest in cybercrime, privacy and the terror on the dark side of IT. At ZDNet Asia, she has made it her mission to warn readers of upcoming security threats, while also covering other tech issues.

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