On 20th February 2019 Athens Voice published an article “Microsoft: Fear of cyber attacks ahead of EU elections”, according to which the American software company Microsoft in Germany, issued a notice, aimed at politicians and civil society organizations, striking the risk of a possible hacker attack, ahead of the European elections next May. Microsoft report mentions that a series of attacks has taken place between September and December 2018, against the staff of a large number of “think tanks” in Germany, such as the Foreign Relations Council, the Aspen Institute and the German Marshall Fund, is the “Strontium” and as widely known “FancyBear” or “ART28”. The attacks against these organizations targeted 104 accounts belonging to organization employees located in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and Romania. In the end, the report cites a statement in POLITICO, in an interview on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, by former NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, warned of the danger of “foreign forces targeting many of the electoral confrontations, “or” chalking “electoral systems, or by spreading” toxic news “to electronics but also to traditional media, as he stated.
Athens Voice’s article has been found on at least twenty (20) other Greek sites, with an identical wording, reproducing substantially the same content, with a source of transmission, a publication of the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency. The only exception of published articles is the liberal.gr website, which is enriched in more details and makes more extensive reference to the issue, citing Tom Burt statements. Particularly, the post of liberal.gr after a full reference to all the information published by other websites notifies the intention of the technology giant to provide enhanced protection in 12 more European markets, including France, Germany, and Sweden. The liberal.gr also reports on the way in which attacks are made, noting that “they were made through malicious web sites and bogus e-mail addresses, which nevertheless appeared to be legitimate”, adding that these attacks are being investigated.
During the searching process for Microsoft’s relevant announcement, which is cited by all sites as a source of publication, was identified on the blog platform of the company used to exchange views on issues affecting Europe in the digital age, an extensive announcement by the corporate vice president, responsible for customer security and trust, Tom Burt, exactly the same date that the news was published on Athenian-Macedonian News Agency and reproduced by rest Greek websites. In this publication, entitled “New steps to protect Europe from cyber threats”, Tom Burt after initially announces the expansion of the new security service from cyber threats (Microsoft AccountGuard) to twelve new markets throughout Europe, then refers extensively to ongoing attacks and the way they have been noted in recent years in countries of Europe, and in particular to the employees of the German, French, Belgian, Polish, Romanian and Serbian governments, while pointing out the justifiable fear of European leaders. Finally, it makes special reference to the Microsoft AccountGuard extension and to the future plans of the technological giant. It is remarkable that the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency on his telegram, while detailing these attacks, makes no reference to the attacks by Serbian government officials, according to according to Tom Burt. A possible explanation for the incomplete reference may be the fact that Serbia is not a member of the EU, although the country is on track to join and the news agency’s report focuses mainly on hacker attacks in view of the European elections. Regarding the statement of the former NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, this is confirmed here.
Therefore, it is clear that out of the 21 sites that published the news of new hacker attacks in view of the European elections, 20 of them replicated the news from the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency (including Athens Voice) and only one site made more extensive reference on the subject. The Greek news agency used the company’s announcement as a basic source of information for its publication, in a concise and comprehensive way, without the slightest mention to Tom Burt and similarly, Athens Voice reproduced it. If the absence of a naming reference to Microsoft’s vice president is excluded, the content of the publication as it was transmitted is accurate and true, although it could be observed that it is of limited size with respect to the source material.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Ioanna Eskiadi and Stella Antonakopoulou, School of Journalism & MC, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki