San Francisco: January 14, 2010- IR Summary/NYT -
A great stir has erupted in China and the biggest search engine Google, which has threatened to pull out of China in response to an attack on its computer system, the company was notifying activists whose e-mail accounts might have been compromised by hackers. Google has no other option but to make a quick move to protect the individuals interest from government surveillance and other undesirable factors and the world lovers of Google appreciates the action of Google.
NYT reporting: In a world where vast amounts of personal information stored online can quickly reveal a network of friends and associates, Google’s move to protect individuals from government surveillance required quick action. In early January, Tenzin Seldon, a 20-year-old Stanford student and Tibetan activist, was told by university officials to contact Google because her Gmail account had been hacked.
Ms. Seldon, the Indian-born daughter of Tibetan refugees, said she immediately contacted David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer.
“David informed me that my account was hacked by someone in China,” Ms. Seldon said in a telephone interview. “They were concerned and asked whether they could see my laptop.”
Ms. Seldon immediately changed her password and became more careful of what she wrote. She also allowed Google to examine her personal computer at the company’s request. Google returned it this week, saying that while no viruses or malware had been detected, her account had indeed been entered surreptitiously.
Google confirmed Ms. Seldon’s account of events, but declined to say whether it had notified other activists who might have been victims of hacking.
Mr. Drummond said that an attack originating in China was aimed at its corporate infrastructure.
While the full scope of the attacks on Google and several dozen other companies remains unclear, the events set off immediate alarms in Washington, where the Obama administration has previously expressed concern about international computer security and attacks on Western companies.
Neither the sequence of events leading to Google’s decision nor the company’s ultimate goal in rebuking China is fully understood. But this was not the first time that the company had considered withdrawing from China, according to a former company executive. It had clashed repeatedly with Chinese officials over censorship demands, the executive said.
Google said on Tuesday that that in its investigation of the attacks on corporations, it found that the Gmail accounts of Chinese and Tibetan activists, like Ms. Seldon, had been compromised in separate attacks involving phishing and spyware.
Independent security researchers said that at least 34 corporations had been targets of the attacks originating in China.
Adobe, a software maker, said it had been the victim of an attack, but said that it did not know if it was linked to the hacking of Google. Some reports suggested that Yahoo had been a victim, but a person with knowledge said that Yahoo did not think that it been subject to the same attack as Google.
The decision by Google to draw a line and threaten to end its business operations in China brought attention to reports of Chinese high-technology espionage stretching back at least a decade. But despite Google’s suggestion that the hacking came from within China, it remained unclear who was responsible. Nevertheless, it presented the Obama administration with a problem of how to respond.
Google’s description of the attacks closely matches a vast surveillance system called Ghostnet that was reported in March by a group of Canadian researchers based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto. They found that an automated espionage system based in China was using targeted e-mail messages to compromise thousands of computers in hundreds of governmental organizations. In each case, after the computers were controlled by the attackers, they were able to scan for documents that were then stolen and transferred to a digital storage facility in China.
The researchers stopped short of directly accusing the Chinese government of masterminding the attacks. However, for years there have been reports of attacks planned by so-called patriotic hackers in China, and many American security specialists argue that these are simply irregular elements of the People’s Liberation Army. At the same time, hackers frequently use so-called false flag espionage or denial of service attacks to route their activities through the computers of a third country and hide their identity.
One of the Canadian researchers said that fellow computer security researchers suspected that the attack on Google and other recent intrusions relied on hackers sending booby-trapped documents that were stored in Adobe’s Acrobat Reader format, which then infect victims’ computers. This method was seen in a recent wave of attacks on the Dalai Lama’s computers. “We’ve seen a huge upsurge in attacks using Adobe Acrobat,” said Greg Walton, an editor at Information Warfare Monitor, a publication of the Canadian research group.
A spokeswoman for Adobe said the company was investigating the reports, but could not confirm that the Adobe software was linked to the most recent attacks.
For Google, the attacks appeared to have been the final straw in a series of confrontations with Chinese authorities. More