Google mounts inside investigation over cyber leak

19 Jan 2010

Search giant Google, which last week threatened to pull out of China over alleged cyber attacks, is understood to be investigating whether one or more employees helped the attackers.

Last week, Google revealed it was one of 20 large organisations from a wide range of businesses, including the internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors operating in China that were the victim of a concentrated cyber attack.

Tech companies Yahoo!, Juniper Networks, Adobe and Rackspace were also understood to have been targets of the attack.

The ‘Great Firewall of China’

China is understood to operate a massive surveillance system known as the Great Firewall of China and it is estimated the country has 30,000 or more “internet police” who monitor offending content, such as pornography or political comment under what is known as the Golden Shield Project.

Last June, the Chinese Government also attempted to install ‘Green Dam’ censorship software on every computer in the country that would deny access to sites with pornographic content or content deemed politically sensitive.

Chief legal officer David Drummond said that the attack focused on the Gmail accounts of human-rights activists. However, the attackers did not appear to achieve their objective and only two Gmail accounts were accessed with activity limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Restriction of internet freedom

Over the past year, China has intensified its efforts to curb internet freedom and the latest threat by Google to exit the country highlights how antagonistic things have become.

It emerged last night that Google now believes the attack may have been facilitated by people working within Google’s China office.

An investigation into the activities of one or more employees is under way. Some Google China employees are understood to have had their access to internal networks denied since 13 January whilst some staff were transferred to other offices in Google’s Pacific operations.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years