Google Gmail Victim of Chinese Security Breach?

Matthew Weinberger

June 3, 2011

2 Min Read
Google Gmail Victim of Chinese Security Breach?

Google is making the very serious allegation that a phishing attack campaign originating from China may have compromised hundreds of Gmail user account passwords, including those belonging to U.S. governmental officials, Chinese political dissidents and other prominent figures.

Where most phishing attempts are broad, trawling for those gullible enough to fall for it, Google said this attack very likely was targeted at those prominent figures in question. Here’s the really important bit from Google’s official statement:

“Through the strength of our cloud-based security and abuse detection systems, we recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing. This campaign, which appears to originate from Jinan, China, 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 (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists.”

Google says that it seems likely the information superhighwaymen in question were looking to monitor the incoming and outgoing messages of their hapless victims, using the passwords to change forwarding and delegation settings. They’ve alerted the appropriate authorities, and helped victims to lock their accounts back down.

Most importantly, Google said this was not a failing of Gmail’s infrastructure, but rather of its users by not taking advantage of proper security considerations. The company is using this attack as an opportunity to promote good security practices, such as enabling two-step verification and using a strong password.

If Chinese nationals are indeed compromising Google customer information, this could have grave implications all around. Stay tuned for more updates.

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