Despite several warnings from Google, Myanmar’s government has continued to deny it had any involvement in the hacking of Gmail accounts over the past week.
The hacking seemed to be an isolated event as only journalists covering Myanmar were affected by the attempts, prompting the questions as to whether the country was continuing old habits of spying on reporters.
"I doubt the authenticity" of the alerts. "There is no policy of the government to attack [a] media website," Ye Htut, a spokesperson for President Thein Sein. He went on to add that the reports of Myanmar’s involvement were “baseless.”
Myanmar has had the propensity under old military regimes to spy on reporters to try and gain some sort of insight. For decades Myanmar journalists were monitored, muzzled and in some cases jailed due to military censorship.
Last year, Google introduced a new feature where alerts are sent out in case it detects a hack, and over a dozen reporters recently received the alert on their Gmail accounts.
"We don't know why they are checking us, or how far they are checking us, or who these state-sponsored groups are," said Zaw Ye Naung, editor-in-chief of Eleven Media, an online publication. "This is not a good situation amidst the reform process."
Ye Naung had six of his own employees receive the alerts, bringing the total to more than a dozen. The hacking attempts weren’t solely to Myanmar based reporters. Some reporters covering Myanmar from other countries including Thailand and Indonesia also received the alerts when they attempted to log into their Gmail accounts.
Although this is the first time a large group of journalists covering Myanmar, there is no definitive way to identify whether the country itself was involved or there it was some faulty malware.
"If Google is drawing the conclusion that state-sponsored groups are involved, it might have something to do with the type of malware, some of which can only come from a government level rather than cybercriminals," said Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices Online and an expert on Internet security.
At this point hackers seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Last week alone Twitter reported 250,000 of its users were hacked with sensitive information being stolen. Not even 88 year-old, hospital ridden ex presidents were safe as George H.W. Bush was the victim of a hacking scheme. The unidentified hacker got a hold of personal e-mails, friends and families addresses and even security codes to the younger George Bush’s home being stolen.
Edited by Rich Steeves