Citing only anonymous sources, CNN released a report on Tuesday claiming that the FBI and other US security agencies are investigating a series of cyber breaches at various US media outlets, including the New York Times.
"Investigators so far believe that Russian intelligence is likely behind the attacks and that Russian hackers are targeting news organizations as part of a broader series of hacks that also have focused on Democratic Party organizations," the report reads, citing, "US officials briefed on the matter."
The identity of these officials remains unknown, as CNN notes that none of the principals involved have commented. While the FBI declined to comment, the New York Times released a vaguely-worded statement.
"Like most news organizations we are vigilant about guarding against attempts to hack into our systems," said New York Times Co. spokeswoman Eileen Murphy.
"There are a variety of approaches we take, up to and including working with outside investigators and law enforcement. We won’t comment on any specific attempt to gain unauthorized access to The Times."
The Russian government has become the scapegoat for a series of cyberattacks in recent months, including hacks into the computer networks of both major US political parties. Most recently, Moscow has been blamed for hacking into the US National Security Agency and stealing cyberweapons.
The accusations are never backed by evidence, and are often contradicted by shreds of inference. In the recent NSA hack, US government hacking tools acquired through the breach were put up for auction, suggesting that the perpetrators were not sponsored by a foreign government.
"A more logical explanation could also be insider theft," James Bamford writes for Reuters, adding that it appeared the culprits were "more like hacktivists than Russian high command."
"Rather than the NSA hacking tools being snatched as a result of a sophisticated cyber operation by Russia or some other nation, it seems more likely that an employee stole them."
There is little evidence that Russia is responsible for the DNC hack that led to the release of internal emails by Wikileaks.
"Intelligence agencies have again pointed the finger at Russia for hacking into these emails," Bamford says.
"Yet there has been no explanation as to how [Wikileaks founder Julian] Assange obtained them. He told NBC News, 'There is no proof whatsoever' that he obtained the emails from Russian intelligence. Moscow has also denied involvement."
Russian, Chinese, Iranian or other foreign hackers are constantly blamed for online breaches of major US government or private corporation servers. However, despite making bold headlines, these accusations are rarely confirmed by facts and often are later quietly dismissed by intelligence officials and cyberexperts. Which doesn’t stop mainstream media from running with stories attributed to anonymous sources again and again.
The network has a history of jumping to conclusions on hacking stories. In the wake of the hack into Sony Pictures, CNN was quick to pin the blame on the North Korean government, but subsequent investigations have cast doubt on Pyongyang’s role. Similarly, CNN was one of the first to blame Russia for the breach of systems at the White House without any evidence.