The French government has called on media to be “vigilant” after the cyberattack claimed by jihadists, which blocked French international channel TV5Monde for several hours, adding that similar attacks could happen again.
TV5Monde was forced to shelve its regular programming on Thursday (9 April) after falling victim to an “unprecedented” hack by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants, who also hijacked its website and social networks.
The Paris-based company, whose programmes are broadcast in more than 200 countries worldwide, was the target of a cyberattack that is “unprecedented for us and unprecedented in the history of television,” TV5Monde boss Yves Bigot told AFP.
By 5:00PM (1500 GMT), the channel was able to broadcast only pre-recorded programmes, but had regained control of its website, where the front page declared “TV5Monde has been hit in the heart.”
“When you work in television… and you find out that your 11 channels are down, of course that’s one of the most dreadful things that can happen to you,” Bigot said.
The hackers took control of the station and its social media operations late Wednesday.
The cyber jihadists also posted documents on its Facebook page purporting to be the identity cards and CVs of relatives of French soldiers involved in anti-IS operations, along with threats against the troops.
“Soldiers of France, stay away from the Islamic State! You have the chance to save your families, take advantage of it,” read one message on TV5Monde’s Facebook page.
“The CyberCaliphate continues its cyberjihad against the enemies of Islamic State,” the message added.
The defence ministry in Paris said it was working to verify whether the documents were genuine.
Attack on freedom of expression
The Ministers of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, and of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, called a meeting with media bosses and urged them to “raise their level of precaution”.
“We cannot rule out that similar attacks could happen again, that they are already planned,” warned Pellerin. An investigation was launched under the leadership of the Paris prosecutor.
At the meeting, which brought together twenty media officials, including representatives of Le Monde, France Media World, France Télévisions, BFMTV and AFP, France’s culture minister proposed state assistance for the implementation of preventive measures.
Cazeneuve stated the the government recognised “the magnitude of the threat to France”. “This attack has targeted the freedom of expression, has targeted culture”, Pellerin added.
Many French media sites have already been victims of cyber jihadists since the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January.
TV5Monde, watched in more than 250 million households worldwide, embodies the French language, and culture, internationally. “By targeting TV5Monde, the perpetrator or perpetrators of this attack knew that their action would have a significant impact,” said TV5.
“This is a coordinated and premeditated action. We cannot shut down these channels simultaneously without being very well prepared,” Gérôme Billois, cybersecurity expert at Solucom, was quoted as saying.
“The problem for the media today is that they do not perceive IT security as a priority, and that they may have not made the necessary investments” said David Grout from Intel Security, a company specializing in security information technology.