Apr 9, 2015 5:26 AM

French network's channels hacked by group claiming IS ties

The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) Hackers claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group seized control of a French television network, simultaneously blacking out 11 channels and taking over the network's website and social media accounts. The attack appeared to be an unprecedented step in the extremists' information warfare tactics.

The hackers briefly cut transmission of 11 channels belonging to TV5 Monde and took over its websites and social media accounts starting Wednesday night. The channel's director, Yves Bigot, said the attack was continuing Thursday morning. He told RTL radio that the network has restored its signal but can only broadcast recorded programs.

The Islamic extremist group has claimed complex hackings before, but the ability to black out a global television network appeared without precedent. The Paris prosecutor's office said Thursday it has opened an investigation into the attack.

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."

In a Facebook message that went up after the network resumed control of the site, Bigot said the "very powerful cyberattack" began Wednesday at 10 p.m.

The message on the TV5 Monde website read in part "I am IS" with a banner by a group that called itself Cybercaliphate. That was replaced later Thursday by a simple message saying that it was undergoing maintenance. A group with the same name hacked Newsweek's Twitter feed in February.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, on his Twitter account, called the attack "an unacceptable insult to freedom of information and expression" and expressed his support for the editorial staff. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin visited the channel's Paris headquarters Thursday.

TV5 Monde, which was founded by the French government in 1984 and calls itself the "worldwide French cultural channel," broadcasts programs produced in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, as well as movies, news and other programs. 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 the Islamic State group and al-Qaida 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 can be directly linked to two Islamic State-linked militants one in Algeria who built the malicious software and another in Iraq who helped speed up the attack.

Within a half-hour, he said, the malware had burrowed in and exploited a weakness to enter the network's computer system and take over its central transmission server, which translates an analog signal into a digital one before it is beamed to a satellite. He said TV5 Monde will have a hard time regaining full control.

"They have to erase everything. There were at least three other encrypted viruses," he said.

Islamic State has called out France in particular for attacks, but Reymond could not say whether they 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 defense systems that was left unguarded, or whether those systems failed outright, which he said would be a more worrying development. The official was not authorized to be publicly named discussing sensitive security matters.


Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.


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