US probes Google hints of China cyber-spying
The United States Government is investigating suggestions from Google that a cyber-spying campaign originated in China.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the FBI will investigate Google’s claims that suspected Chinese hackers tried to access the Gmail accounts of senior US officials by stealing passwords.
“These allegations are very serious. We take them seriously, we are looking into them,” she told reporters.
The Gmail accounts of Chinese activists and journalists were also reportedly targeted.
The claim has sparked an angry response from the Chinese Government, which has denied any involvement in the alleged hacking attack on Google’s email system.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei says to put all of the blame on China is “unacceptable”.
“The Chinese Government has always opposed any kind of criminal activity that tries to harm the internet,” he said.
“The so-called allegation that the Chinese Government supports hacking attacks is completely fabricated with ulterior motives.”
A statement from Google does not specifically point the finger of blame at Chinese authorities.
“We recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing,” Google security team engineering director Eric Grosse said in a blog post.
“The goal of this effort seems to have been to monitor the contents of these users’ emails, with the perpetrators apparently using stolen passwords to change peoples’ forwarding and delegation settings,” he said.
Those affected included senior US government officials, Chinese political activists, military personnel, journalists and officials in several Asian countries, predominantly South Korea, Mr Grosse said.
“Google detected and has disrupted this campaign to take users’ passwords and monitor their emails,” Mr Grosse said.
“We have notified victims and secured their accounts. In addition, we have notified relevant government authorities.”
The “phishing” ruse used to trick Gmail users into revealing account names and passwords reportedly involved sending booby-trapped messages that appeared to come from legitimate associates, friends or organisations.
Google says the California-based firm’s systems and servers were not attacked.
There is no indication whether the Gmail spying campaign was related to a China-based cyber attack on Google that prompted the company in 2010 to stop bowing to internet censors and reduce its presence in the country.
Google had initially threatened to close its Chinese operations altogether because of censorship and cyber attacks it said originated from China.
At that time, Beijing virulently denied any state involvement in the cyber attacks that Google said targeted email accounts of Chinese human rights activists, saying such claims were “groundless”.