"What is significant about the New York Times breach is not that the Chinese have breached a big media organization," Deibert says. "If someone had come to me back then and said: 'Have the Chinese breached more media organizations than just the AP?' I would answered: 'Of course!’
“You'd have to be stupid not to think that, based on the scope of the victims – government, Fortune 500, telecommunications, military contractor – compromised over the last three years by networks within China. So, The New York Times? I'd bet money on it."
In a December intelligence report for its clients, Mandiant, the company brought in by the Times to investigate, found evidence that Chinese hackers "had stolen e-mails, contacts, and files from more than 30 journalists and executives at Western news organizations, and had maintained a ‘short list’ of journalists whose accounts they repeatedly attack," the Times reported.
But why hack into Western news media outlets or mount such an extensive campaign at all? China media experts say it's all about controlling or influencing news coverage, if possible.
Since the Internet now makes it possible for Chinese citizens to get at least some news electronically – leaking through digital barriers – Chinese authorities are finding it necessary to try to find out in advance, if possible, what news organizations will report. The aim is to try to short-circuit embarrassing stories or stop them altogether if possible, these Chinese media experts say.
"While just one case in a sweeping cyberespionage campaign that appears endemic, the attack on the Times does highlight both the willingness of Beijing to lean out and shape the narrative about China as well as the vulnerability the top leadership feels about how they are portrayed," Adam Segal, a senior fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on the Foreign Policy magazine website. "Beijing is pushing its Internet power outside of China into the rest of the world."