Google reveals Gmail hacking

2011-06-02 09:32

San Francisco - Hackers likely based in China tried to break into hundreds of Google mail accounts, including those of senior US government officials, Chinese activists and journalists, the internet company said on Wednesday.

The unknown perpetrators, who appeared to originate from the city of Jinan in Shandong province, recently tried to crack and monitor e-mail accounts by stealing passwords, but Google detected and "disrupted" their campaign, the world's largest web search company said on its official blog.

The revelation comes more than a year after Google disclosed a cyber attack on its systems that it said it traced to China, and could further strain an already tense relationship between the web giant and Beijing. Google eventually all but pulled out of the world's largest internet market by users.

"We recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing," Google said in a post on its corporate blog, referring to the practice where computer users are tricked into giving up sensitive information.

"The goal of this effort seems to have been to monitor the contents of these users' e-mails."

Common

It "affected what seem to be the personal Gmail accounts of hundreds of users, including among others, senior US government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists".

Google did not say the Chinese government was behind the attacks or say what might have motivated the intrusions.

But cyber attacks originating in China have become common in recent years, said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at telecommunications company BT.

"It's not just the Chinese government. It's independent actors within China who are working with the tacit approval of the government," he said.

The events leading to Google's withdrawal from China exacerbated an often difficult relationship between Washington and Beijing, with disputes ranging from human rights to trade.

The attacks revealed on Wednesday were also the latest computer-based invasions directed at western companies.

The US has warned that a cyber attack - presumably if it is devastating enough - could result in real-world military retaliation, although analysts say it could be difficult to detect its origin with full accuracy.

Investigation

Lockheed Martin Corp, the US government's top information technology provider, said last week it had thwarted "a significant and tenacious attack" on its information systems network, though the company and government officials have not yet said where they think the attack originated.

The White House said it was investigating Google's claims.

"We have no reason to believe that any official US government e-mail accounts were accessed," said White House spokesperson Tommy Vietor.

The FBI said it was working with Google on the matter.

A representative at South Korea's presidential office said the Blue House had not been affected, but added they did not use Gmail. South Korea's Ministry of Strategy and Finance said it had warned all staff "not to use send or receive any official information through private e-mails such as Gmail".

Jinan, the capital of eastern Shandong province, is the location of one of six technical reconnaissance bureaus belonging to the People's Liberation Army, which oversees China's electronic eavesdropping, according to an October 2009 report by the US-China Economic and Security Commission, a panel created by Congress to monitor potential national security issues related to US-China relations.

The bureaus "are likely focused on defence or exploitation of foreign networks", the commission report states.

Evidence

Last year, US investigators said there was evidence suggesting a link between the Lanxiang Vocational School in Jinan and the hacking attacks on Google and over 20 other firms, the New York Times reported. The school denied the report.

China's foreign ministry and its state council information office did not respond to faxed inquiries.

China has said repeatedly it does not condone hacking, which remains a popular hobby in the country, with numerous websites offering cheap courses to learn the basics.

Chinese human rights activists say they are increasingly worried about Gmail's security.

"Two years ago, when we were using Gmail for our organisation, there were a few incidents when our accounts were hacked into by people pretending to be us and sending attachments to colleagues with viruses in them," said Wang Songlian, research co-ordinator for rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

After that, the organisation started relying less on Gmail, Wang said, "because of the belief that even though Gmail has good security, it's not good enough for our purposes. It's still a concern for us."

While Google said last year's attack was aimed at its corporate infrastructure, the latest incident appears to have relied on tricking e-mail users into revealing passwords, based on Google's description in its blog post.

Espionage

It said the perpetrators changed the victims' e-mail forwarding settings, presumably secretly sending the victims' personal e-mails to other recipients.

Schneier said the details that Google has released about the e-mail hijacking do not appear that unusual.

"For the past five years we've known that the Chinese conduct a lot of espionage over the internet," he said.

In January 2010, Google announced it was the target of a sophisticated cyber attack using malicious code dubbed "Aurora", which compromised the Gmail accounts of human rights activists and succeeded in accessing Google source code repositories.

The company, and subsequent public reports, blamed the attack on the Chinese government.

"Investors would like to see Google figure out a way to operate in China, and capitalise on the growth of the country," said Cowen and Co analyst Jim Friedland.

"It's been a tough relationship. And this highlights that it continues to be a tough relationship," he said.

Baidu

Google said it had notified the victims and relevant governments in the recent attacks.

"It's important to stress that our internal systems have not been affected - these account hijackings were not the result of a security problem with Gmail itself," Google said.

Google has lost share to rival Baidu Inc in China's internet market, the world's largest with more than 450 million users.

Read more on:    google  |  china  |  cybercrime
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
3 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

No legal challenge to Nkandla report - Mbete

There are no plans to legally challenge Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report on Nkandla, ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete says.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Century City - 15:10 PM
    Road name: N1 Service Road Outbound
    ACCIDENT between Sable Road and the N7 Interchange - QUEUEING TRAFFIC
  • Thursday Newlands - 14:10 PM
    Road name: M3 Both Ways
    QUEUEING TRAFFIC on Wynberg Hill
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia N9

The Nokia N9 has a beautiful one-piece, unibody design where...

From R2899.85

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be required to travel or get information for your job. This may be restricting in some way or something may slow things...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.