Cyber war! Google reacts to attacks on Gmail accounts
January 25, 2010
by Mark Ollig

In January 2006, Google, with the approval of the Chinese government, brought its search engine online to mainland China.

The new Internet URL “www.google.cn” became available within China for the Chinese people to access in order to search for information over the Internet.

Today, four years later, Google is threatening China with shutting off this search engine.

It was recently reported by Google that its infrastructure had been “compromised” and certain subscriber’s e-mail accounts (Gmail) had been hacked into.

In Beijing, two foreign journalist’s Gmail accounts had been hacked and Google’s software settings were changed. The journalist’s messages were forwarded to an unknown e-mail address.

In addition to the journalist’s accounts being hacked into – one of which is a television reporter in the Beijing bureau of The Associated Press – Google said the e-mail accounts of dozens of people in support of human rights in China had also been hacked.

I was reading the official Google blog post by David Drummond, who is not only Google’s senior vice president, but is also their corporate development and chief legal officer.

In this blog, Drummond wrote about how, back in 2006, Google was not very comfortable with having to agree with China’s censoring of search results. However, he said, Google felt it was more important in allowing some information over the Internet to be made available to the Chinese people than not going forward at all.

So, Google agreed to the Chinese government’s censoring and screening of certain information it would allow to be passed through to the Chinese people over their search engine.

Drummond stated how, at that time, Google said it would “. . . carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined, we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

So, over the last four years, Google has been operating in China under the Chinese government’s censoring of the information its people are allowed to view over the Internet.

Google’s tensions have risen recently with the Chinese government since it learned over a month ago that certain Gmail accounts had been hacked into.

Google stated in an announcement that the hackers had attempted “sophisticated attacks on its security infrastructure.”

Drummond also said this attack was not only on Google’s facilities.

The security infrastructure of Google was infringed upon, along with that of other companies and businesses, which the New York Times reported were mostly located southeast of San Francisco, in what is commonly known as “Silicon Valley.”

“As part of our investigation, we have discovered that at least 20 other large companies from a wide range of businesses – including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors – have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant US authorities,” Drummond stated on the Google blog.

Google believes the attacks originated in mainland China.

Drummond said they have already used information gained from the attack to “. . . make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their web browsers.”

“Freedom of speech” is at the heart of the matter – Google points out on their blog – as the reason they are sharing the information about these “attacks” with the public.

In a daring statement in Google’s Jan. 12 blog, “A new approach to China,” Drummond said, “We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks, we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially, our offices in China.”

In 2000, the US – China Economic and Security Review Commission was created to monitor, investigate, and present to the US congress a yearly report on the national security concerning the trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

For those of you who want to further investigate the cyber espionage activities targeting the United States, I would suggest reading the “2009 Report to Congress of the US – China Economic and Security Review Commission.”

This abbreviated URL link (tinyurl.com/yaw7zdd) begins on Section 3 of the report (scroll up to page 160) which goes into greater detail concerning the Chinese cyber technology espionage activities targeting the United States.

I want to state, many parts of this report, which I did read, were an eye-opener.

It is important to note this report is made publicly available by the US government, so you can rest assured knowing this columnist is not illegally hacking around where he shouldn’t be.

David Drummond sums up how Google’s decision to review their business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and how they know it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. He concludes by saying Google is “committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.”