Two columnists of the opposition daily newspaper Yeniçağ, Batuhan Çolak and Murat Ağırel, have been the targets of a cyber-attack.
After President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "We have several martyrs in Libya” in a statement, the daily Yeniçağ published an article stating that a Turkish colonel had been killed in a bomb attack carried out by the Khalifa Haftar group on a Turkish military ship and that he was buried without any official announcement. The article written by Batuhan Çolak spread rapidly and got published in several news websites. But following criticism, the daily Yeniçağ removed the article from its website.
The same day, Twitter and Gmail accounts of Batuhan Çolak, who wrote the article, and Murat Ağırel, who shared it via Twitter, were hacked. «Without my phone, it is not technically possible to access my Gmail and Twitter accounts from a different computer and IP. But somehow our accounts were hacked. All our activities related to Google services were archived and downloaded. Our tweets about the martyrs in Libya were deleted. The same thing happened to our columnist Murat Ağırel. How is it possible that text messages from the GSM operators Turkcell and Vodafone were forwarded to other phones? This is not a random act of theft. It is unacceptable that agencies meant to ensure Turkey’s security are interfering with journalists’ social media accounts. This operation is an attack to the public’s right to information” said Çolak.
The journalists said they received text messages asking authorization lower their connection to a 2G cellular network. Although they did not give any authorization, their connections were changed to 2G and then their accounts were hacked.
Technology experts provided following commentary: « Murat Ağırel wrote that he received a text message asking permission to lower his connection from 4.5G to 2G, and without any action he received a second text message informing that the permission has been given. This incident has two steps. First, it seems that text messages have been sent as if they originated from the journalist’s phones. With these text messages, their networks were downgraded to 2G, which has SS7 bugs. And then, their phones were hacked. »
This cyber-operation against Yeniçağ columnists is alarming for all journalists. We previously witnessed these kind of cyber-operations that targeted journalists’ computers and the lawsuits that emanated from these interferences.
This attack to journalists is an attack to the public’s right to information. This attack is not only a threat to journalists who are struggling to write the truth but also a threat to their sources.
We call our fellow journalists to use their electronic devices carefully. Those who committed this cyber-attack should be identified and persecuted immediately. As long as these crimes remain unpunished, the political power will be held accountable for it.