Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

China Journalists Target of Internet Virus

Sep 21, 2009

UPDATE: Just added a description of where the virus is found and how well targeted it is.
UPDATE 2: Mainstream media picked up on the story (which is about mainstream media!) with a story by Reuters.

The Shanghai Foreign Correspondents’ Club just sent out a warning to members that their news assistants are being targeted by malicious email purporting to offer work.

Apparently the underpaid, overworked assistants are seen as easy prey working as freelance fixers.

Who is trying to spread this virus? Not clear, but the failed Green Dam project, certainly tells us that government officials  like the idea of installing spyware onto computers.

Here is the text of the warning to correspondents:

FCC has received several reports that correspondents’ news assistants are being targeted with email viruses. The senders were purportedly from the media organisations’ head offices. We would like to advise extra caution when opening such e-mail.

Here is one such recent example:

((begin example))
Dear,
/>
/> I am the economics editor of The XXX newspaper.  I plan to be in
/> Beijing October 2nd, (arriving late evening) to research the annual
/> world economy survey.
/> I wonder if someone can help me fix up some interviews.
/> I attach a list of people I would like to meet with. I would be happy
/> with just 6-7 interviews during my stay, so don’t worry if some of
/> them are away. If a lot of my chosen economists are unavailable, I
/> will have a few more names.
/> I think that they are all Chinese speakers, but please check for me as
/> I find that discussing technical economics through a translator does
/> not work very well.
/>
/> I will be staying at the China World Hotel, No. 1 Jian Guo Men Wai Avenue .
/> From past experience, it would be good if meetings could be grouped to
/> minimise getting stuck in bad traffic!
/>
/> The subject I am researching is the implications for the world
/> economy, and in particular the developed economies, of the increasing
/> global importance of China, India and the other emerging economies.
/> How is the increased
/> weight in the world of emerging economies affecting growth rates, jobs,
/> wages, profits, commodity prices, inflation, interest rates, asset
/> prices, capital flows and exchange rates? Who will be the winners and
/> losers in this new
/> economy?
/>
/> Please let me know if you need any more information.
/> And thank you in advance for helping me arange my trip.
/>
/> Best regards
/>
/> Pam
((end of example))

UPDATE FROM A CORRESPONDENT:


We have been getting several of this mails during the last days and. And I would really like to know who is behind all this, today’s mail looks quite well prepared and as sent to my assistant’s private mail address, which not many people are supposed to know.
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View Comments for “China Journalists Target of Internet Virus”

  • We would like to advise extra caution when opening such e-mail.

  • or2003

    I'm surprised that this issue hasn't come up publicly before actually. My organization - foreign-run but nothing to do with the media - is regularly subjected to these kinds of well-crafted attacks. In some cases, the emails will appear to have been sent from our own colleagues' email accounts and will have content so eerily similar to our regular emails that somebody would have to monitor our email activity for a while before putting the attack together. (But as noted by Tom, the dodgy grammar is always a dead giveaway.)

    I know of a number of other organizations in our field experiencing the same problem.

    In every instance, the email comes with an attachment - which we don't open - and we assume that opening it installs some spyware (or worse) on our machines. Would love to know if other companies in other fields face the same issues.

  • Tom

    There's a pretty strong clue that this email wasn't written by an English native speaker, trouble with time oriented grammar. "I attach a list of people..."

    Most native speakers I know would use "arrange" instead of "fix up." "...can help me fix up some interviews."

    And, when "arrange" is used, it's mispelled. "...for helping me arange my trip."

    All in all, it's fairly well composed, but it's not the type of writing you would expect from a professional journalist.

  • casslam

    i knew someone has been spying me in my office computer...crap!

  • Wow, did any news assistant get hooked by those email viruses?

    Want to know more about this.....

  • Rick Martin

    I'd be curious to see details about what the virus actually does.

    Maybe have someone forward the email over to Nart Villeneuve (nartv.org) and see what his thoughts are?

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