Yesterday, Google told us it had uncovered a cyber-attack against high-level US and South Korean government officials originating in Jinan, China. Today the Chinese government said there were “ulterior motives” in blaming Beijing for the attacks.
Chinese hackers have stolen the login details and passwords of hundreds of Gmail users most likely through a phishing campaign. What makes this of more interest however is that high-ranking officials in the US government, Chinese political activists and officials in several Asian countries (including South Korea) as well as military personnel and journalists were targeted in the attack. Google has not been able to say who was behind the attack but said it originated in Jinan, the capital of the Shandong province, 250 miles from Beijing. Google believes the goal of the attack was to monitor the contents of these users’ emails, with the perpetrators apparently using stolen passwords to change peoples’ forwarding and delegation settings. After spotting the attack and “disrupting the campaign,” Google informed all victims and secured the accounts, as well as informing the relevant government authorities.
It was the sophisticated nature of the attack which was not designed to be of financial benefit to the hackers that led some to speculate that the Chinese government was behind it. However, today, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said it was unacceptable to blame Beijing. "Hacking attacks are an international issue. China is also a victim. The so-called statement that the Chinese government supports hacking attacks is a total fabrication out of nothing. It has ulterior motives." Of course Google and China have a long history of animosity including previous Gmail hacks and Google stopping censoring its content in China at the beginning of 2010. Jinan has long been seen as a centre of espionage in China and based in the city, just 250 miles from Beijing, is the Lanxiang Vocational School, which the New York Times claims was linked with the Aurora attack on Google in 2009.
With cyber attacks now set to be considered as “acts of war” in the US, the government in America has said it is aware of Google’s claims and is investigating. With cyber security firmly on the agenda of every government, attacks like these will draw more and more attention and eventually the perpetrators will be uncovered - though before that happens serious security breaches could occur.