GOOGLE: Internet Attacked; Activists Targeted; Freedom To Be Restored

Google disclosed significant attacks on their servers and GMail, along with attacks on other corporations.  They will change their policy limiting the freedom of Chinese citizens.  Another demonstration that the risk to democracy posed by Internet voting is not just a possibility voiced by computer scientists and security experts.

Google announcement: A new approach to China <read>

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty 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 U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers…

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. 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.

Our earlier coverage of the risks of the Internet and Internet voting. <Obama/Government Concerns> <Bankers Concerned>

Update: NPR Fresh Air: Fighting Cybercrime, One Digital Thug At A Time <Read or Listen>

Attacking corporate Web sites and stealing personal financial information is no longer just the work of hackers. These days the mob is also taking an interest…

They’ve argued for years that increasingly organized bands of hackers are a threat to everyone who uses the Internet, from individual consumers to banks and credit card companies, to the U.S. government.

Joseph Menn is a journalist who covers cyber-security and other technology issues for the Financial Times. His new book, “Fatal System Error,” is a look at the hacker underworld where cyber-criminals in the former Soviet bloc and elsewhere commit extortion, fraud, identity theft and even politically motivated attacks on the Web sites of governments and dissidents…

DAVIES: Right. Now, of course, the critical question there is how does one of these miscreants, these cyber-criminals, get control of thousands of computers to simultaneously try to log onto your Web site and thus overload it?

Mr.?LYON: It’s there’s unlimited ways to do it. These guys have these very sophisticated, amazing softwares that basically can hunt down computers on the Internet that have real common holes in them and then remotely install software that allows them to control those computers.

DAVIES: Right, and the term for someone whose computer has been a computer that’s been taken over by an external operator is a bot, as in robot, right?

Mr.?LYON: Yeah, they’re basically a bot. They’re kind of a tool for your, you know, your whims.

DAVIES: Right, and just to make this clear, we’re talking about this could be many listeners in our audience, for example, who might have been happily using their computers for months, not knowing that somebody somewhere, maybe in Ukraine, has had some program, has gotten into their computer and is actually, without them knowing it, using their computer to flood some Internet site somewhere as part as part of an extortion effort.

Mr.?LYON: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly how it works, and it’s not necessarily like the person in Estonia is logged in to your computer and running it physically. Their your computer has a little piece of software that links into another location that kind of aggregates them all together so you can send commands in a mob or in a mass and say, basically broadcast a message saying, okay, all you computers go and attack this.

Are  you sure your computer is safe?  If you are a Military or Overseas voter are you sure your computer or the one you are using has not been hacked to change your vote or throw it out if it is for the “wrong” candidate?

Failing that perhaps the Russians help attack candidate web sites and Chinese will just continue to steal our business and military web sites (covered in the NPR story).

The [security] industry is paranoid…the Internet was not built for this purpose [security].

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