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China Authorities Behind Google Attack, Researcher Claims

Posted by Author on January 15, 2010

By Gregg Keizer, Computer World, January 15, 2010 –

Computerworld –  The malware used to hack Google is so sophisticated that researchers brought in by the company to investigate believe the attack code was designed and launched with support from Chinese authorities.

According to Carlos Carrillo, a principal consultant for Mandiant, a Washington D.C.-based security incident response and forensics firm, the attack against Google last month was “definitely one of the most sophisticated attacks I’ve seen in the last few years.”

Mandiant was called in by Google to look into the attack, and Carrillo was the project manager for the Google investigation. During an interview Friday, he frequently chose his words carefully, saying that there was much he couldn’t discuss because the work was ongoing.

“The malware was unique,” Carrillo said. “It had unique characteristics … it was … let’s just say it was unique.”

Other researchers who have examined the malware have also come away impressed. Thursday, Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at McAfee, called the attack code “very sophisticated” and added, “We’ve never seen anything this good in the commercial space. In [attacks on] government, yes, but not commercial.”

But what does that kind of expertise mean?

Carrillo is convinced that, given the sophistication of the code, it was produced with support from Chinese authorities. “This wasn’t on the level of Metasploit,” Carrillo said, referring to the open-source penetration testing framework whose exploits are often used by hackers to craft malware. “This wasn’t something that a 16-year-old came up in his spare time.”

When asked if the code quality pointed toward Chinese state support, Carrillo answered, “I would say so.” He declined to elaborate.

Mandiant was called in to investigate the attack on Google “early in the process,” said Carrillo, who refused to get more specific. McAfee’s Alperovitch said that time stamps in the malware’s command-and-control log files indicated the attacks began in mid-December and ended Jan. 4, when the hackers’ servers were shut down.

In the announcement Tuesday that its corporate network had been hacked and intellectual property stolen, Google said the attacks had been discovered in mid-December. Google also said the attacker tried to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, a move that — along with increasing censorship of the Web by China’s government — has prompted it to reevaluate its business in the country.

Carrillo also provided additional information to the still-sketchy framework of the attack, saying that the exploit of a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was not the only vector used by the hackers. That seemed to back up Microsoft’s assertion that the IE bug wasn’t the sole cause of the break-ins…… (more details from Computerworld)

One Response to “China Authorities Behind Google Attack, Researcher Claims”

  1. Andres said

    Some say China has a huge destructive potential and what’s not to believe from that if we can simply watch how they threat their own people. I’m really not against Chinese people, but i believe that their Government should start to look things more openly. Yes they are the most growing developing country of the “BRIMC”, and yes they might be even more huge in 2050 but that does not necessary reflects the Chinese well being nor more specially foreigners’ safety in China.

    Although i might not even be the right person to speak up for Google since I am not an American nor a Chinese but one thing i am sure about is that politics in China seeks no more than it’s own well being under any circumstances. Take for example here in México China has an important impact on Mexican daily basis products (not food but general) I am not saying that thanks to them non-original products are spread all over the country but they certainly have based the illegal market all over the place and people not always realize that is not only illegal but also inconvenient to buy this kind of products due to it’s quality. Even when most Mexicans over experience have to realize this, the Chinese stain still persists. (Who wants to buy a 2 month life-enduring Chinese Tool for half price when another German one is out there and it’s quality endures up to 5 years?)

    On International Commerce aspects we might not be able to change Chinese arrangements for trade and quality (After all if you pay 100USD for an American to make a “tool” f.e., There is always a Mexican that can do that for $15USD, and yet there will always be a Chinese who will make it for only $1USD and will give you also a free radio. This HAS to somehow influence ion the quality)This isn’t really the issue but let’s just hope that at least through Diplomacy and the well know American International force empowerment Google can have a positive outcome on this matter.

    Andrés D.L.S., Cancún, México

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