Turkish 'hacktivists' take over social media accounts of US journalists

  • "Hacktivists" are activists that use various hacking methods to spread their political viewpoints, usually by breaking into social media accounts of prominent individuals or attacking prominent websites.
  • Reporters from Fox News, Bloomberg and The New York Times had social media accounts co-opted in the attacks over the past two weeks, according to research by cybersecurity company Crowdstrike.
A man waves a flag displaying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as people take part in a rally near the '15 July Martyrs Bridge', formerly called Bosphorus Bridge, in Istanbul, on July 15, 2018.
Ozan Kose | AFP | Getty Images
A man waves a flag displaying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as people take part in a rally near the '15 July Martyrs Bridge', formerly called Bosphorus Bridge, in Istanbul, on July 15, 2018.

Turkish activists took over the social media accounts of U.S. journalists and used them to post messages praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to a prominent cybersecurity intelligence firm, which shared photos of the compromised accounts with CNBC.

Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, said the company recorded social media account takeovers by pro-Erdogan 'hacktivists' this week. The attacks targeted journalists from Bloomberg, The New York Times and Fox News, he said.

Hacktivists are activists that use cybercriminal tactics to spread their messages. Those tactics can include website defacements or distributed denial of service attacks, which flood prominent websites with so much traffic that they crash. By taking over media personalities' social accounts, these individuals can use the platform to temporarily promote their political stances.

Cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike said they have connected these cyberattacks to the Turkish "hacktivist" group Ayyildiz Tim.  
Cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike said they have connected these cyberattacks to the Turkish "hacktivist" group Ayyildiz Tim.  

The faction in Turkey call themselves Ayyildiz Tim, Meyers said. According to online postings that CrowdStrike has been able to connect to Ayyildiz Tim, the group claims it is supported by Erdogan's security forces.

"They also claim their activity goes back to 2002," Meyers said. "They've made attacks on a number of entities that they believe are hostile towards Turkey or critical of Turkey. This is a particular group we have been tracking for quite some time."

According to CrowdStrike, the organization took over accounts belonging to reporters Elizabeth MacDonald from Fox, Tom Keene from Bloomberg and Vanessa Friedman from the Times. The reporters from Bloomberg and Fox had discussed Turkey's economic situation in recent weeks, but Friedman writes about the fashion industry and does not cover Turkey.

The hacktivist group also used the social media account takeovers to launch phishing attacks against people connected to those journalists, Meyers said. A spokesperson for the Times confirmed the incident and said the company's information security team had locked down and secured Friedman's account. The other media outlets could not immediately be reached for comment.

The group has also created spoofed media accounts mimicking the BBC and other outlets, Meyers said.