Google has announced that Chinese hackers are at it again -- this time, targeting Gmail account holders. However, this isn't the first time that Google has come under attack. In January 2010, Google suffered a cyber attack that used malicious code called "Aurora," which targeted the Gmail accounts of human rights activists. The attack was traced back to China, and Google ultimately decided to partially pull out of China last year over issues regarding censorship. This decision has put a growing strain on Google's relationship with China.
Google has now announced that Chinese hackers have used phishing schemes to steal the passwords of "hundreds of Google email account holders."
Google said the hack originated from the capital of China's eastern Shandong province, Jinan. Jinan contains one of the six technical reconnaissance bureaus that belong to the People's Liberation Army, as well as a technical college. A previous attack on Google was traced back to this area before.
Technical reconnaissance bureaus are responsible for China's electronic eavesdropping, and according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission, these bureaus are likely gearing toward the "defense or exploitation of foreign networks."
While hacking is considered a hobby in China that the Chinese government allegedly condones, Google didn't directly blame the Chinese government for the recent attack. However, an anonymous former U.S. government official said the Chinese government is likely partially responsible as a result of Beijing's fears that "contagion from the Arab 'jasmine' uprisings could spread to China." But the official also believes that independent Chinese citizens are partially responsible as well, saying that they have the government's approval to perform a security breach.
The Chinese government has denied Google's accusations regarding the recent attacks, as it has in the past. For example, hacking attacks last year, which targeted Google and over 20 other companies, were traced back to the Lanxiang Vocational School in Jinan, but the school denied that it had anything to do with it.
"Blaming these misdeeds on China is unacceptable," said Hong Lei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman. "Hacking is an international problem and China is also a victim. The claims of so-called Chinese state support for hacking are completely fictitious and have ulterior motives."
The most recent attack on Gmail accounts, which attempted to trick Gmail users into providing personal information through the use of highly personalized messages and a document for them to download, changed the email forwarding settings of Gmail accounts in order to send emails to other accounts.
Luckily, Google was able to detect the hackers' attempts and notified the victims immediately. The FBI is now working with Google following the attacks, while Washington investigates Google's claims.
"We recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing," said said Google. "It affected what seem to be the personal Gmail accounts of hundreds of users, including, among others, senior U.S. government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries, military personnel and journalists."
The Pentagon recently announced that cyber attacks on government entities could be considered an act of war.
"We'll certainly see more of this in the future, as Chinese hackers -- independent and otherwise -- target Google because of its global popularity and its decision to defy the Chinese government on censorship, which some hackers will misconstrue as being anti-Chinese," said Michael Clendenin, managing director of RedTech Advisors.
Hacking has become a major issue lately, with multinational companies being the recipients of many of these attacks. For instance, consumer electronics corporation Sony was hacked several times over the last month, losing user information and credit card numbers linked to its PlayStation Network (PSN) and Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) databases. After that fiasco, the U.S. government's top IT provider Lockheed Martin was hacked through the use of stolen RSA information.
Earlier this week, Australia's government warned its resource corporations of cyber attacks becoming more frequent, and worried that the country's resources may be at risk as well after a successful cyber attack was launched against Australia's parliament in February. What seems odd, though, is that Australia's largest oil and gas company, Woodside Petroleum, defended China, saying not to "just pick on the Chinese."