Spying and Sabotage: Rivalry Between Nazareth's Arabic Media Heats Up

Police suspect that the newspaper Kul Al Arab copied articles directly from the computers of its rival A-Sonara and used viruses to shut down its website.

Israel police investigators on Wednesday brought the general manager of the newspaper Kul Al Arab in for questioning on suspicion that his paper spied on rival newspaper A-Sonara and sabotaged its computers and its website.

sonara - Haaretz - September 1 2010

The paper is suspected of using spyware applications and a 'Trojan horse' program in order to plant a virus in A-Sonara's computers. Kul Al Arab denies the allegations.

Kul Al Arab's general manager and an information technology specialist are suspected of sabotaging the content and the advertisements on the A-Sonara site, and of hacking into their computers and installing secret spyware. Kul Al Arab employees then allegedly accessed articles that were saved on the computers of their rival, and even published them. Additional employees are expected to be brought in for questioning.

The offices and operations of the two newspapers are both located in Nazareth, and both publish print and online editions. The two papers and a third, Panorama, are the leading Arab-language newspapers in Israel.

About a month ago, investigators under the command of Aharon Galor arrested an employee of A-Sonara under suspicion of crimes against his employers. On Tuesday, the investigation was ratcheted up a notch when the police found a Trojan horse on the computers of A-Sonara.

The suspects: It's a conspiracy

Police sources said the suspects deny the accusations and claim they are being framed, saying "It was the police that installed the Trojan horse."

According to Varia Mashur, internet editor for A-Sonara, "The attack on us began about two months ago. First of all, they attacked our website, exactly when we were being surveyed. We started to suspect that someone was attacking us from within."

At the beginning of Ramadan – an important time for advertising and newspaper circulation – A-Sonara's computers came under attack twice and were offline for two days. In addition, A-Sonara claims it recognized its own articles and photographs in its rivals' pages, published there before than in its own editions. "It was a serious blow to the number of hits on the site, its popularity, and its public image," Mashur said.

According to Mashur, not only did their rivals acquire news articles, but also internal financial documents including e-mails, minutes of meetings, and protocols of decisions taken by the paper.

A-Sinara acquired the services of an information security company that checked its various systems and their investigation revealed that an external actor used a Trojan horse to inject a computer virus into the newspaper's website that impaired the performance of the website and its advertisements. In addition, the investigation revealed that the hackers installed spyware applications that it is suspected passed articles on to the paper's competitor before they were published.

"It's very saddening," said Mashur. "Competition is a good thing in the world of journalism, but I would never have believed that competition would have gone this far."

She added, "There were [even] fears of a physical attack, we still feel vulnerable."