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Google warns journalists in Myanmar of state-sponsored email hacks

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The New York Times reports that several journalists who cover Myanmar may have had their email accounts hacked by "state-sponsored attackers." Journalists in the country say that warnings from Google began appearing last week, and the Times says some journalists speculate that the attack could be linked to a conflict in the northern region of the country, where government troops have fought rebels for control of territory. Myanmar has only recently opened up restrictions on news media, which was tightly controlled during decades of military rule; the Times notes that the country now has successful weekly publications that have begun to report on topics that could make the government uncomfortable.

"This is a direct attack on the media and a step backward for democracy."

The Times reports that publications that published stories on the government's controversial conflict, including leading private publications like Eleven Media Group, have been targeted by cyberattacks. Eleven Media's chairman U Than Htut Aung tells the Times that "this is a direct attack on the media and a step backward for democracy;" Eleven Media's website and Facebook page are said to have been shut down by hackers several times in the past month.

Google has not defined what constitutes a state-sponsored attack, and the company wrote that it "can't go into the details without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors" when it initially announced last June it would provide the warnings to its users. The attacks, while unrelated, appear similar to a spate of hacks that affected The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal in recent months. Those attacks are speculated to have come from the Chinese military in attempt to control controversial reporting on its government, an accusation Chinese authorities call "groundless."

Update: A government spokesperson for Myanmar told the Wall Street Journal that he didn't believe the government was involved in the hacks, adding "there is no policy of the government to attack [a] media website."

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