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Google.cn Attack Part of a Broad Spying Effort 515

CWmike writes "Google's decision Tuesday to risk walking away from China (Um, the world's largest Internet market) may have come as a shock, but security experts see it as the most public admission of a top IT problem for US companies: ongoing corporate espionage originating from China. It's a problem that the US lawmakers have complained about loudly. In the corporate world, online attacks that appear to come from China have been an ongoing problem for years, but big companies haven't said much about this, eager to remain in the good graces of the world's powerhouse economy. Google, by implying that Beijing had sponsored the attack, has placed itself in the center of an international controversy, exposing what appears to be a state-sponsored corporate espionage campaign that compromised more than 30 technology, financial and media companies, most of them global Fortune 500 enterprises. The US government is taking the attack seriously. Late Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement asking the Chinese government to explain itself, saying that Google's allegations 'raise very serious concerns and questions.' She continued: 'The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.'"
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Google.cn Attack Part of a Broad Spying Effort

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  • Whoa. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mewsenews ( 251487 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:06PM (#30753466) Homepage

    As a tech community, we are always reading articles about Google, computer security, etc. It's surprising to see one of our hot button topics being picked up by the mainstream and becoming an international diplomatic flap. I'm stunned that Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, has waded into the discussion.

  • It's about time. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigredradio ( 631970 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:12PM (#30753530) Homepage Journal
    Everybody seems to walk on egg shells as to not cause friction with China because of the "possible" loss of customers they get access to. I applaud Google for this. Just because China has 1.3 billion people does not make them all good customers. I know a lot of software developers who would rather stay out of China because after the first license is sold, it's pirated and re-distributed by their competitors. So my point, why compromise your ethics for a hostile business environment that might lead to further problems and minimal increase in the balance sheets. Way to go Google!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:12PM (#30753532)

    That's because they apparently were able to access a system used to help Google comply with search warrants by providing data on Google users, said a source familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press.

    See why leaving back doors open for law enforcement and other Government organizations actually decreases our security?

    See why "if you do nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about" is complete utter non-sense?

    By making the government's job easier, they've opened up the door to malicious attacks by foreign governments.

    The FBI (the whole Executive branch for that matter) and Congress should be ashamed of themselves for their stupidity in ordering such back doors.

    The only fear I have for my security is the idiocy of the US Government in "protecting" me.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:14PM (#30753552)

    This move is not as much about "don't be evil" as it is "don't fuck with us"; it is merely a happy coincidence that both apply in this situation.

  • by TrippTDF ( 513419 ) <hilandNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:15PM (#30753576)
    Yeah, I don't think anyone really realizes the power of Google now. They have a lot of power for content creators, advertisers, technology companies, and millions of people. It is not a start-up: It is the most powerful company on the face of the planet, but no one realizes this yet.
  • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:17PM (#30753606) Journal

    A lot of people go "They won't do it, China is 1/5th (or 1/6th) of the worlds population!"

    Google can have the other 4/5ths (or 5/6ths). No Internet company started in China will grow outside of China the way they are set up.

    Let them stew in their "secure" system they put in place. Put your efforts elsewhere. When you gain the rest of the world - then China will obey Google, not the other way around.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:19PM (#30753636) Homepage Journal

    This is going to go down as the biggest piece of corporate "do-gooding" since Henry Ford did the $5 day. I can't even begin to calculate how much Google went up in my mind for doing this. They may have lost a bunch of potential customers, but for what its worth, they've just got me for life.

    Whatever their motives, Google did the right thing, and in a big way. I didn't see Microsoft stepping up to the plate like that, Apple didn't step up to the plate like that, and I'll remember that when I choose platforms.

  • by andy1307 ( 656570 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:32PM (#30753826)
    According TFA, this is an internal system. No different from a log file. How is this a backdoor? Can the law enforcement agencies access it from the outside?
  • by KermodeBear ( 738243 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:33PM (#30753838) Homepage

    So far Obama has not shown much interest in rocking the boat

    Obama, by putting Hillary in this position, has marginalized her. He essentially controls what she can and cannot do, and what she can and cannot say. Do you really think that she put this statement out without approval from the President?

    On a side note: I don't like Obama or Hillary, but I would rather have Hillary in office because she, at least, has significant political expertise and knows how to make the country feel good. She wouldn't wait 3 days to make a public statement after a bombing attempt on an airplane. It doesn't do anything other than make people feel warm and fuzzy, but that is part of what that job entails.

  • Re:It's about time. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kenp2002 ( 545495 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:36PM (#30753902) Homepage Journal

    They walk on egg shells because China is the largest nuclear threat since the USSR was around and from a measure of hostility communism has killed more then 100 million people since it's incept. Between Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Castro, and countless others they are giving religion a run for it's money for "killing in the name of"

    Keeping the dragon fat and sleepy so it doesn't wake up sounds more a likely scenario...

  • by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:41PM (#30753968)
    Further reasons the administration might not like what China is doing right now are economic. China ties their currency exchange rate to the U.S. dollar in a way that keeps theirs low relative to ours. This essentially creates a permanent trade imbalance between the exporter (CHina) and the importers (U.S. mostly, also Europe). I hear people say all the time that China owns a huge portion of the U.S. debt and it would be a big disaster economically if they sold that debt. This is incorrect, if the Chinese sold their U.S. debt they'd be doing us a favor because it would depress the value of the dollar and make our manufacturing more competitive. In the past when unemployment has been rock-bottom in the U.S., this wouldn't help us much. Right now it would help our economy a lot to create manufacturing jobs because our unemployment is 10%. Paul Krugman quantified this by saying that China's exchange rate policy amounts to 1.4 million lost jobs in the U.S. [nytimes.com] The people at the federal reserve and the treasury know this. Ben Bernake himself has been quoted as saying chaiman-speak equivalent for the Chinese are playing with fire [ft.com].

    The conclusion here is that I suspect that if Clinton is mentioning this, the administration is planning on using this as leverage to get economic or other concessions out of the Chinese.
  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:51PM (#30754114)

    Indeed it's true. I see many people talk of fearing China, but the reality is it simply doesn't have the military equipment to fight far from it's shores, it doesn't have the stability to guarantee that if it does send it's soldiers outside it's borders that it wont lose territory to dissidents inside it's borders. Contrary to popular belief it doesn't have that much support from Russia, partly because it's still locked in border disputes with them, the same goes for it's other neighbours in almost every direction who would love the opportunity of China spreading itself to far to claim territory they believe is their own.

    Economically it could certainly be a problem, but in terms of us losing it's manufacturing facility the likes of India which is of a similar population would gladly pick up the slack, and in the current weakened economic situation in fact, most countries would be willing to take on a big manufacturing boost.

    That's not to say they couldn't be a problem at all of course, if they backed up North Korea by having North Korea threaten further to launch nukes whilst providing them military support to try and wave of the US and such from attacking it in response to such threats it'd be a big deal. Similarly any war with them would still be a hell of a headache, but the point to take away is this, no matter what China does, even if in the worst case they decide to pursue a military route, whilst they'd cause a lot of harm and damage, they'd have absolutely no chance of winning. Even their nuclear stockpile is relatively small, particularly when you take into account modern American ICBM defences.

    In a way though it's a real shame, because China has so many smart people, it has such potential to be a thriving peaceful modern nation. It's perhaps ironic that the lust for power and control at the top of China is exactly what stops China from becoming a more powerful player on the international stage. It has a big population, but it can't unilaterally take on the world despite seeming to believe otherwise.

  • by eleuthero ( 812560 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:51PM (#30754126)
    If it continues to be a problem, I think google might go a bit beyond pulling out - they've already demonstrated they respond negatively to being ticked off by removing filters - I'd say there's a good chance they might become actively antagonistic.
  • by DeadPixels ( 1391907 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:51PM (#30754128)
    TFA doesn't say, but one of the links in the summary says that it was accessible from compromised machines in Google offices.

    That's because they apparently were able to access a system used to help Google comply with search warrants by providing data on Google users, said a source familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press. "Right before Christmas, it was, 'Holy s***, this malware is accessing the internal intercept [systems],'" he said.

    What I find interesting is that Google apparently hacked them back:

    Google's security team eventually managed to gain access to a server that was used to control the hacked systems

    Personally, I'd be interested in knowing what the Google team did to turn the tables, even if it's a few months or years down the line after this incident is over.

  • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:12PM (#30754400) Homepage

    Your assumptions are flawed in two ways, encryption doesn't equal security, and businesses don't report when they get hacked, or didn't until data breach privacy laws were enacted by individual states.

    More than likely these attacks used the typical attack vectors, viruses, emails, trojaned websites, malicious javascript and flash to get in on some of the 'hacked workstations' google talked about. From there they will use their beachead behind the firewall to leapfrog or pivot to more sensitive resources possibly using the credentials of the hacked user.

    As for who uses stronger encryption, businesses use what you can buy in the market, the military has crypto you can't get, search FAS and Wiki for some examples if you are really interested.

  • Re:Statescraft (Score:5, Interesting)

    by metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:13PM (#30754420)

    "Hey COO, we need to locate a remote technology office. This will support the economy of Brazil, China, India, Poland." "Let's choose... ANYWHERE BUT CHINA, because they will steal our stuff."

    Public perceptions matter. And statements like this drive headlines, which drive perceptions. There's some line-in-the-sand drawing happening: we'll put up a lot of shit, but not so much with the stealing our data. So knock it off, or things will get unpleasant.

    We've tried the no-talk, all-action approach: Iraq reconstruction. How well did that work?

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:22PM (#30754586)

    Read their announcement. They have decided that they are no longer willing to censor search results. They are interested in speaking with the Chinese government on the possibilities of continuing to operate in China without censorship (use your own expertise as to the likelihood of that happening). Google has said that if they can't agree with the government, that they will close down google.cn.

    They've already made their decision, they gave the ball back to the Chinese to decide whether they want Google to be allowed to operate without censorship. Frankly, an uncensored Google in China may be better than Google leaving China.

  • Re:Statescraft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zorg50 ( 581726 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:31PM (#30754766)

    It is also the first step in the diplomatic process that can lead to condemnations from the UN, sanctions, or even war.

    Would the UN condemn one of the five countries in its own Security Council?

  • by richardellisjr ( 584919 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:43PM (#30754914)
    I'm wondering if or when Google will start to develop software to get around the great firewall of china. If you think about it they can pull out and will still have a large portion of the worlds search business. If they then release something to make getting around firewalls easy, they can get the search business in china without having a corporate presence there simply by being "the" search engine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:49PM (#30755020)
    Warning: Conspiracy Theory

    This is why I would not be surprised if the current US economic situation is intentional. China's economic actions (trade, currency, debt) have long irritated US elite. Knowing that China is our next economic competitor, I think the US powers that be have been manipulating China all along. We rode the Chinese manufacturing train for as long as could, waited until China was near a tipping point, then intentional manipulated the global markets to cause a huge wave to hit China. An Economic tidal wave. China is currently faking all its major numbers, lying about its market conditions, and printing money hand over fist. China is on the verge of economic collapse.

    http://www.fundmymutualfund.com/2009/10/kyle-bass-hayman-capital-october-letter.html [fundmymutualfund.com]

    "The People's Bank of China (PBoC) expanded Chinese M1 money supply by a staggering 28.7% year-over-year from September 2008 to September 2009."

    "To us, one of the most compelling sets of data points to come out of China is the substantial drop in prices for goods and services (Purchasing Price Index (-11.4% year-over-year), Wholesale Prices (-7.1%), and Producer Price Index (-7.9%)) in an environment where not only money supply, but also credit, investment and "retail"sales are increasing at double-digit percentage rates." This downturn started after the financial collapse last September and has not responded to any of the fiscal and monetary stimulus so far."

    Make no mistake about it. We are at war. An economic war with China, and the ultimate goal is complete domination of the world.
  • by Vintermann ( 400722 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:54PM (#30755090) Homepage

    Hardly. If any company is competent enough to protect itself from technology-based industrial espionage, it's Google, and whatever financial risks there are don't outweigh the value of the entire Chinese market.

    When they entered China and agreed to censor searches, they said it was in a hope that it would move things in the right direction in China etc. What it seems, that no one expected, was that they actually meant it.

  • by Steauengeglase ( 512315 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:58PM (#30755144)

    It isn't diabolical in the least. Averting panic is half the battle.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @04:21PM (#30755506)

    As others have mentioned, Google didn't do this because it's the good thing to do. They did this because it makes good business sense. If it had been financially advantageous to remain in China and even court their government more closely Google would have done that instead.

    There is more to a company than simply it's bottom line. Google IS taking a financial risk here that didn't need to be done, just like the many other companies under attack in this same incident that did not say a word. Obviously Google is not a company based solely on altruism and do-gooding but to say that they don't have some sort of company ethic is absurd.

    Simply put, different companies have different ethics and these ethics affect their business decisions. Some companies are willing to lose some profit to maintain their ethic.

  • Comment removed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by account_deleted ( 4530225 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @04:36PM (#30755748)
    Comment removed based on user account deletion
  • Re:Statescraft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spinkham ( 56603 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @04:59PM (#30756112)

    They are NOT doing a bad job of it, and they are much more skilled then "script kiddies".

    When organizations like Google and people like Richard Bejtlich (who has literally written the book [amazon.com] on network monitoring and incident detection) admit to being p0wn3d and unable to be sure the mess is cleaned up [blogspot.com], you know you're up against a very sophisticated attacker.

  • by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:19PM (#30756376)
    I didn't say too big 'in China'. That they are not the most popular search there is not material to the situation. They are too big a global company that their issues with China can be ignored by other companies and governments. That is the point.
  • Don't be so sure (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:30PM (#30756544)

    Don't be so sure: the US is probably why indymedia's servers got pinched. To catch a citizen of another country that was speaking against the G7.

    And the US (just as the US are accusing China of doing now) is spying on conversations over the internet between competing foreign countries.

  • by zuperduperman ( 1206922 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:52PM (#30757584)

    > Another part of it was that Google has a concept of how they run their business. That concept has been successful.

    Agree. Google is notoriously ruthless in what they choose to do or not do. They identify areas where they can run absolutely automated IT solutions and do not even try to compete in areas that require heavy investment outside of that. They basically avoid anything that stops their fully automatic money-printing machine from running unattended. I think somewhere at the base of this is their realization that dealing with China is going to be an endless series of headaches requiring constant attention from their top level people focussed on things that are entirely unproductive for their core mission - so they just cut it out of their business model.

  • Re:The Borg (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lennier ( 44736 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:21PM (#30757952) Homepage

    "The Chinese are all about assimilation of technology. "

    Yes. And this is Slashdot, a website which is generally in favour of people assimilating, reverse engineering, decrypting, hacking, cracking, opening, jailbreaking, repurposing, learning, making, rebuilding, customising and sharing technology. We believe in the right to read, the right to copy, Stallman's Four Freedoms, that technology should be owned, not licenced, that DRM is evil because it blocks a user's ability to control their own technological destiny, that software patents stifle innovation, that copyright and region coding keeps media prices artificially high, that censorship is an intrinsic evil, that business models must perpetually innovate, that nobody owes buggy whip makers a living, etc.

    We believe that We The People Have The Right to learn stuff, copy stuff, and share stuff, and that technology is only safe when the user is in the driving seat.

    Oh... but suddenly all that is bad if CHINA does it? Eek! Scary Asian people stealing our freedom (to control them).

    I say, let China assimilate all they want. The bigger problem here is US corporations who think they have the moral right and practical ability to *stop* other countries sharing technological information - and then foolishly built business models on that foundation of sand.

    Sell stuff to China if you choose to. Don't sell stuff to China if you choose to. Just don't expect them to 'respect' your crazy ideas that information is property, which it isn't. I mean, this is Slashdot - we know that, right? We read Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow, we put Creative Commons on our photos and GPL on our code, we know that information *should* be copied because that's its strength... right?

    Don't try to 'sell' your secrets to China with one hand while trying to grab them back with the other, because that's like posting your drunk party photos on Facebook then saying 'but I didn't mean for the world to see me naked!'

  • by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) * <eric-slash@@@omnifarious...org> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:37PM (#30758236) Homepage Journal

    I've been reading all the 'realpolitik' explanations of Google's behavior, and I think that Google is still fundamentally different from almost any other publicly traded company. I don't think your explanations in terms of shareholder value represent an accurate picture of the internal motivations of Google.

    I think you are more comfortable in a world where such explanations are valid. Companies always operating in their own short term best self interest has been a bedrock of both economic and political thought for at least 20 years, and more likely 90 years. It's scary that a company could become large, powerful and successful without following that formula. And it's scary that there's a large, powerful and successful company that doesn't follow it. It throws off all the rules.

    It reminds me of people who insist on looking for marketing messages in Google doodles. In truth, they happen because there are silly and playful people who work for Google, and their doodles are fun. And that's it. There is no other reason.

    When I read about Google's original motivations for being in China, I took them at face value. Yes, I'm sure the attraction of a big, emerging market played a factor. But I accepted that their decision was fundamentally based on moral values, not financial ones. I, personally, didn't agree with their decision, but I accepted that it was made from examining values other than simply profit.

    And while I think they are upset over being hacked and are angry over the loss of their data, I really do think that the fact that the hackers seemed to be explicitly interested in the accounts of Chinese human rights activists was the biggest factor in their decision to stop censoring.

    If Google seriously felt that China was too much of a threat to be profitable they would just pull out instead of simply removing censorship. Removing censorship is a decision based on morals, not economics.

  • Re:Statescraft (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @01:52AM (#30761242)

    Because by publicly asking the government to respond, they are making them look like a pack of inept idiots.

    Most Americans don't have any idea just how much this means*. Face is everything in Chinese (most Asian) cultures, China was caught with it's hand in the biscuit jar doing something it shouldn't have been and now the US govt is publically pointing this out. This is causing a loss of face for the Chinese politicians. This one is not easy to explain to people without first hand experience with the concept of face but there is no corruption in China, nor does the government make any wrong moves. Yes it's all lies but truth isn't important when maintaining face, it's about the illusion. In most Asian cultures people do things to maintain face that we consider mad, as the foreigners it seems normal for us to point out the pink elephant in the room but to the Chinese that's wrong.

    The US calling China out is doing more damage then the the entire rest of the world threatening China. Now it's been outed that someone screwed up there will be a political bun fight (this is no different then in the west) over who is going to take the loss of face. Because China is not under threat, they have no external stressors to push this one off to.

    * I don't blame Americans, nor am I calling you ignorant but there is a lot the average American doesn't understand about foreign cultures they've never visited. The number of stupid questions I get about Kangaroo's is astounding and our two nations have a lot in common. Also this works both ways, you should hear some of the misconceptions about the US I hear from Asian people (thanks to rappers, some Thai's think that all USian's are black?).

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