Because Obama Administration Demanded Google Cooperate in Surveillance, Chinese Gained Access to Targets
Google agreed years ago to cooperate with the Obama administration’s efforts to conduct surveillance on certain individuals in the U.S., including those suspected of spying on behalf of China. But by helping the government, Google inadvertently helped the Chinese government learn who federal authorities were watching when hackers managed to penetrate the company’s databases in 2009.
The cyber-attacks, in fact, may have been aimed at learning the identities of Chinese intelligence operatives under surveillance in the U.S. by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), The Washington Post reported.
Google technicians discovered that its database containing years of information on surveillance operations had been breached. Included were classified court orders approving surveillance of U.S.–based foreign agents, diplomats and terrorists.
Google informed the FBI, which notified President Barack Obama and dispatched an agent to Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters to investigate. Google denied the agent access because the FBI would not provide parameters for the scope of the investigation. Google claimed that its own in-house assessment of the breach showed that national security had not been compromised.
Referring to a similar Chinese attack on Microsoft’s computer system, David W. Aucsmith, senior director of the firm’s Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, said at a conference that Microsoft’s “attackers were actually looking for the accounts” that had “lawful wiretap orders on.”
“If you think about this, this is brilliant counterintelligence,” Aucsmith said. “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.”
If indeed that’s what happened in the Google attack, the Chinese government may have been able to pull its spies out of the U.S. or destroy information before it fell into the FBI’s hands, according to one former unidentified official interviewed by the Post.
China’s cyber-espionage operation has targeted more than 30 U.S. companies representing multiple sectors of industry and government. Its cyber-theft of proprietary data has been described by National Security Agency director Gen. Keith B. Alexander as the “greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
Chinese Hackers Who Breached Google Gained Access to Sensitive Data, U.S. Officials Say (by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post)
Hackers Who Breached Google in 2010 Accessed Company’s Surveillance Database (by Kim Zetter, Wired)
Report Fingers Chinese Army in Anti-U.S. Hacking Attacks (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Chinese Government Brags on TV about Cyber Attacks against U.S. Sites (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
China Leads U.S. in Cyber Spying (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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