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Google alerts journalists covering Myanmar of possible state-sponsored hacks

Google has sent alerts to certain journalists who cover Myanmar, warning them that their email accounts have possibly been compromised by government-backed hackers.

According to a story posted by Eleven Media this weekend, news editors at the organisation - including chief editor Wai Phyo - received notifications from Google warning them about "state-sponsored attacks on their email accounts."

Reporters with the Voice Weekly Journal, the AP, and Kyodo News Agency also received warnings, Eleven Media said. Aye Aye Win with the AP said she immediately changed her password since her email account includes "many contacts."

Eleven Media said its website was hacked in January by the Red Army, which is made up of six different hacker groups. The Facebook pages for the Voice Weekly and Eleven Media were also hit on 4 February and 6 February, respectively.

"Eleven Media Group sent a formal complaint to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services via the Press Council over cyber attacks on legally established media," the organisation said.

In June, Google announced that it would provide users with security warnings about state-sponsored attacks.

Google said at the time that the warnings would appear for a "subset" of users who Google believes "may be the target of state-sponsored attacks." When activated, a pink bar appears atop various Google services (see below) with a warning that reads: "We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account of computer. Protect yourself now." The "protect yourself" text links to a page with steps you can take to guard against unwanted intrusions.

Eleven Media included a screen shot of a journalist's email account, which included the alert atop of his or her messages.

According to the New York Times, the news media in Myanmar were censored for more than 50 years until President Thein Sein took over about two years ago.

ABC News reported that a presidential spokesman denied hacking the journalists' accounts and urged Google to be more specific. "The vague reference to state-sponsored attackers hurts the image of the government," a spokesman said.

In November 2010, a massive distributed denial of service attack took Myanmar offline.

Recently, the New York Times revealed that it was the victim of a hack that seemed to originate in China. The hackers had access to the Times' network for about four months as the paper tried to weed them out; no sensitive information was stolen, the Times said.