Telecommunications System & Management

ISSN: 2167-0919

Open Access

Hackers, Journalists and the Ethical Swamp


Geoff White

As hacking stories have increasingly made news headlines, those behind the attacks have become ever more adept at co-opting the media into covering their leaks. From Ashley Madison and Sony to the 2016 US Presidential election, news coverage of cyber attacks has become increasingly weaponized by those behind them. Hacking groups have in some cases made direct contact with journalists to steer them towards a particular story, and in other cases have carefully triaged and strategically leaked the data for maximum impact. This has left journalists in a difficult position: exposing the source of the information could well be unethical, but keeping them anonymous could result in the journalist being manipulated to achieve the aims of a hidden and malign actor who escapes culpability. For hackers wishing to expose government or corporate malpractice, it raises practical issues about how to approach and work with news outlets and their staff; both in terms of security and anonymity, but also the ethics of the eventual news coverage that results. Handing information over to a journalist may mean handing over control of how it’s used. In this talk, investigative journalist Geoff White (who has covered technology for, among others, BBC News, Channel 4 News and Forbes) takes five high-profile hacking incidents and analyses how they reflect key trends and tactics for working with (and some cases manipulating) the news media


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