PARIS (AP) –– Hackers claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group simultaneously blacked out 11 channels of a French global TV network and took over its website and social media accounts on Thursday, in what appeared to be the most ambitious media attack so far by the extremist group.
France’s interior minister, while counseling caution until investigators find hard evidence, said the attack was likely a terrorist act. “Numerous elements converge to suggest the cause of this attack is, indeed, a terrorist act,” Bernard Cazeneuve said at a news conference.
The hackers briefly cut transmission of 11 channels belonging to TV5 Monde and took over its websites and social media accounts. The channel’s director, Yves Bigot, said the attack continued into Thursday. However, the station was able to broadcast its 6 p.m. live show, “64 Minutes.”
More than a dozen technicians worked to return the station to life “without erasing the traces of the intrusion, which are precious for the investigation,” the National Agency for Computer Systems Security said in a statement.
Hackers operating under the name Cybercaliphate have carried out a string of attention-seeking attacks against media outlets — including several in the U.S. — since late last year. Even though the hackers express support for the Islamic State group and routinely use its imagery in their attacks, it is difficult to know for sure whether they are genuine members, simple supporters or hackers with no link to IS. Experts who have followed the group’s online communications say its supporters have regularly expressed interest in launching cyber-attacks at Western targets.
Experts and a French official said the ability to black out a global television network represented a new level of sophistication for the group. French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin warned other media outlets to be vigilant, saying another such attack cannot be excluded and may even be in the planning stages.
Hackers claiming to work on behalf of the Islamic State group 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 U.S. military’s Central Command.
France is still under the shock of the deadly January terrorist attacks in Paris against satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store. Since then, officials say hackers have targeted some 19,000 French websites.
Within a half-hour, said William Reymond, the malware had burrowed in and 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 will have a hard time regaining full control.
IS has singled out France in particular for attacks, but Reymond could not say whether it had a particular reason to target TV5 Monde.
The hackers also claimed to have leaked files that included resumes, passport scans and government letters, according to an analysis by the SITE Intelligence Group.