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Steve Bowbrick/AP

In an earlier era, if someone didn't like what was reported about them, they could write a letter to the editor or run a full-page ad combating the piece. Today, independent and state-sponsored hackers are responding to articles, journalists and news institutions they don't like online by publishing private information about them or shutting down their websites completely.

Why it matters:

  • The news is at risk: Digital news lends itself to more cyberattacks, and the rate of digital news consumption is steadily increasing. This is especially problematic when news organizations are planning stories around highly-trafficked events that hackers can predict will have a big democratic impact, like the election night or inauguration.
  • Everyday people are unknowingly involved: Hackers use an army of digital bots to perform attacks, and those bots often operate attacks from "compromised machines," or the computers of regular, everyday people. Hackers will place malware (usually from spam emails) on people's computers that allow bots to mimic their website browser settings when conducting attacks, making it harder for news organizations to see them coming.

How it happens: The most common type of digital news attack is called a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack, where hackers use a network of bots to direct a lot of traffic towards a website, overwhelming its server and shutting it down. Doxing, another type of cyberattack, is also frequently used, where attackers obtain and publish private information about people (journalists, politicians, etc.) with the intent of maliciously exposing their vulnerabilities. This has become more frequent in the past two years.

  • News sites: It was a DDOS attack that shut down a huge portion of our Internet last year for nearly a full day, including Twitter, The Guardian, Netflix, Reddit and CNN websites. Earlier this year, Reddit shut down Alt Right sub-channels for doxing.
  • Journalists: Earlier this year, Google sent an email warning to prominent journalists of attacks by a government-based hackers.
  • Campaigns: DDOS attacks were used in an attempt to shut down both the Clinton and Trump campaign websites during the election.

What's the solution? Media organizations choose content delivery networks (CDNs) to serve content safely and efficiently, and as a safeguard for unexpected traffic surges that might come from a very popular story – or unwanted attention from an attack designed to make their servers unavailable. The New York Times, for example, used a CDN company called Fastly to ensure their live election results map wouldn't be shut down on election night, due to high-traffic or a hack. In an interview with Axios, Fastly's Chief Security Officer Window Snyder says by routing traffic through servers distributed worldwide, content is closer to the user and decentralized, which is especially important if a website is managing high traffic or attacked. Some companies, like Facebook, are large enough to build out their own CDN's, but most digital news organizations will hire CDN companies to manage this process for them.

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Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

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Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.