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Why cyberattack cases against journalists are increasing

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Cyberattacks against journalists and media organizations are on the rise. That's according to new research from cybersecurity experts. Here's NPR's Jenna McLaughlin.

JENNA MCLAUGHLIN, BYLINE: Ten years ago, Matthew Prince was having his morning coffee when he noticed a potential problem. His company, Cloudflare, was in the business of protecting websites from malicious internet traffic. But he hadn't encountered this situation before.

MATTHEW PRINCE: Back in 2014, if someone came under a substantial cyberattack, if they weren't paying us anything, we would kick them off. And I saw the list of customers that we had kicked off the night before and recognized that one of them was actually one of the largest independent newspapers in Ukraine.

MCLAUGHLIN: It was 2014. Russia's invasion of Crimea was underway. And Prince, a Silicon Valley computer scientist, found himself smack-dab in the middle of a geopolitical struggle. That's when he decided to start something called Project Galileo, a free program for under-resourced media and civil society organizations that needed protection from a cresting wave of cyberattacks. It's been 10 years now since the start of Project Galileo. I spoke to Prince and Cloudflare's head of public policy, Alissa Starzak, at an event marking the anniversary in downtown, Washington, D.C.

ALISSA STARZAK: We're here, actually, at the National Endowment for Democracy. They're our Galileo partner.

MCLAUGHLIN: Since the beginning, Cloudflare has recognized the unusual position they're in. Like other tech companies, they're inventing tools that can improve people's lives. It's been lucrative, but even if they want to help spread the wealth and protect vulnerable communities, they say they don't want to play God and handpick whose work is worth protecting. That's why they've brought in 50 or so other organizations to help them vet candidates. And in the last 10 years, they've gathered a lot of data about the state of play when it comes to attacks against their members. The latest report analyzes data from 2023.

STARZAK: I think one of the things that's most striking about the report is the number of attacks on civil society.

MCLAUGHLIN: Project Galileo protects organizations in 111 different countries. In the last year, 34% of all attacks were against journalists, the highest percentage. The single largest attack was against the independent Russian media outlet Meduza. There was also a spike in attacks on LGBTQ+ groups around Pride Month last summer. And sometimes governments are targeting the internet itself.

PRINCE: We're seeing increasingly as elections are taking place that it is becoming more accepted that governments will simply shut the internet down.

MCLAUGHLIN: Whether a country is waging war or undergoing elections, people who speak truth to power are more and more at risk, says Prince.

Jenna McLaughlin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF OFFTHEWALLY'S "SPRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jenna McLaughlin
Jenna McLaughlin is NPR's cybersecurity correspondent, focusing on the intersection of national security and technology.
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