Hackers claiming allegiance to Islamic State (IS) seized control of a global French TV network, simultaneously blacking out 11 channels and taking over its website and social media accounts.
The attack on TV5 Monde appeared to be an unprecedented step in the extremist group’s information warfare tactics.
The hackers’ attack started on Wednesday night. The channel’s director, Yves Bigot, said it continued yesterday, and that it was able to broadcast only recorded programmes.
IS has claimed complex hackings before, but experts and a French official said the ability to black out a global television network represented a new level of sophistication for the group.
Mr Bigot said he was shaken when he saw the black screen across the network’s broadcasts “and when we discovered the sense of the message appearing on our social media and our websites, it both allowed us to understand what was happening and obviously worried us”.
The message on the TV5 Monde website read in part “I am IS”, with a banner by a group that called itself Cybercaliphate. It was replaced later yesterday by a simple message saying it was undergoing maintenance.
Prime minister Manuel Valls, on his Twitter account, called the attack “an unacceptable insult to freedom of information and expression”, and government ministers visited the channel’s Paris HQ yesterday.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened a terrorism investigation.
Hackers claiming to work for IS have seized control of the Twitter accounts of other media, such as Newsweek, and in January they hacked into the Twitter page and YouTube site of the US military’s Central Command.
TV5 Monde, which was founded by the French government in 1984 and calls itself the “worldwide French cultural channel”, broadcasts news and other programmes produced in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. Its Facebook page says its signal reaches more than 257 million homes in over 200 countries and territories.
After January terrorist attacks in France by gunmen claiming links to IS and al-Qaeda in Yemen, officials said hackers had targeted some 19,000 French websites.
William Reymond, editor of the French investigative website Breaking3zero, which traced the January hackings, said the latest attack could be directly linked to two IS-linked militants – one in Algeria who built the malicious software and another in Iraq who helped speed up the attack.
Within half an hour, he said, the malware had exploited a weakness to enter the network’s computer system and take over its central transmission server, preventing the signal from being beamed to a satellite. He said TV5 Monde would have a hard time regaining full control.
“They have to erase everything. There were at least three other encrypted viruses,” he said.
IS has singled out France for attacks, but Mr Reymond could not say whether it had a particular reason to target TV5 Monde.
A French security official said investigators would examine whether the attackers had found a hole in TV5 Monde’s information defence systems that had been left unguarded, or whether those systems had failed outright, which he said would be a more worrying development.
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