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Google vs. China: Lax security led to hacks

by Andrew Kagan 14. January 2010 03:12

As more information was released into the nature of the attacks by Chinese cyberwarriors against U.S. companies, the "smoking email" appears to be lax security procedures on the part of Google, but more importantly on the part of the companies that were successfully attacked (only two are known at this time).

Google quietly started forcing all access to Gmail to be rerouted over secure (SSL) connections it became apparent that Gmail accounts were compromised in order to discover users' corporate account information. As is all too often with webmail accounts, users fail to realize that the entire contents of an email viewed over webmail is easy to intercept at any point ("hop") between the webmailserver and the client. The convenience of webmail far outweighs the security concerns...until now. For the record, most corporate webmail systems, e.g. Outlook Web Access, use secure communications between the server and client for this reason.

Encrypted connections between the Gmail server and client would provide a much higher level of protecting the data in the emails, but it takes a performance toll on Gmail servers that Google probably wanted to avoid. Gmail users had the option of securing communications between them and Gmail's servers, but few took advantage of it.

Of greater concern is the actual cyber attacks, which used a vulnerability in Adobe Reader (the "zero day" vulnerability) to embed a trojan in a PDF, which when downloaded to a user's computer was activated when the PDF was scanned by Windows' Indexing Service. Apparently this vulnerability was used to compromise corporate computers, leading to the security breaches cited recently. Google admitted that at least 32 companies had been attacked...but likely the numbers are much higher.

But the tragedy here is that the vulnerability was announced 9 months ago, prompting both Microsoft and Adobe to release security patches shortly thereafter. It is likely that the companies were attacked more recently, having left these vulnerabilities unpatched, as is so often the case...pity the IT directors who will soon be posting their resumes on Linked In.



Comments (2) -

2/11/2010 11:13:29 PM #

It seems that China gov has won this duel.

Festival United States

2/22/2010 7:05:20 AM #

certainly seems that China stands more to gain than Google

jblogger United States

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