Attack On Google Netted Chinese Hackers With Counter Intelligence
May 21, 2013

Attack On Google Nets Chinese Hackers With Counter Intelligence

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

In 2010, Google became one of the first companies to openly admit they had been attacked by Chinese hackers. This admission sparked an ongoing battle between the Chinese government and the American-owned search giant. At the time, Google said they had been hit with a sophisticated attack which resulted in some stolen intellectual property.

On the heels of news about a reenacted Chinese hacking group yesterday, the Washington Post issued a report claiming the 2010 hackers were able to get more than intellectual property from their attack.

According to the Post´s sources, hackers were after the names of Chinese intelligence operatives who were the target of American surveillance. Though it´s still unclear how much information the hackers were able to walk away with, current and former US officials with knowledge of the breach say it´s possible these hackers had access to “valuable intelligence.”

“Knowing that you were subjects of an investigation allows them to take steps to destroy information, get people out of the country,” said one former official who spoke with the Post on conditions of anonymity.

Google was attacked as a part of what´s been called the “Aurora attacks,” a string of hacking strikes which targeted dozens of major American companies, including Microsoft. At the time Google claimed the hackers were after the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Last month website CIO told a different story, saying the Aurora attacks were all about gaining counter intelligence about undercover agents. The Washington Post was able to confirm these concerns in yesterday´s report. Google officials have declined to comment further about these attacks, but one director for Microsoft´s Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments explained the software company´s experience during the same attacks.

"What we found was the attackers were actually looking for the accounts that we had lawful wiretap orders on," said Dave Aucsmith at a government IT conference in Maryland, according to CIO. Though Aucsmith doesn´t disagree with Google´s original claims, he said the hackers who targeted his company were not interested in human rights advocates.

"So if you think about this, this is brilliant counter-intelligence. You have two choices: If you want to find out if your agents, if you will, have been discovered, you can try to break into the FBI to find out that way. Presumably that's difficult. Or you can break into the people that the courts have served paper on and see if you can find it that way. That's essentially what we think they were trolling for, at least in our case," said Aucsmith.

This discovery is now raising questions about wiretapping and the overall security of large corporations on the whole.

Shortly after the 2010 Aurora attack against Google, the search company issued a blog post which said the hackers were able to steal the source code responsible for their search engine as well as email addresses for human rights advocates.

According to yesterday´s Washington Post story, Google later discovered that the hackers also obtained surveillance information, including emails belonging to suspected spies, diplomats and terrorists which law enforcement officials had been monitoring. Google reported this breach to the FBI, resulting in a national security investigation.

The New York Times also issued a report yesterday claiming the Chinese hackers are responsible for attacking the newspaper and other companies have been ramping up their attacks. The hacking outfit had been found to nearly disappear after a February report uncovered their attacks.