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Chinese hackers gained valuable information in Google breech years ago

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There's no question they breached Google security years ago. The question arises: What were the Chinese hackers after? According to U.S. officials, it appears that the leak was intended to find the identities of Chinese operatives then living in the United States.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The hackers gained access to a sensitive database with years' worth of information about U.S. surveillance targets.

It's not known much the hackers were able to discover. Former U.S. officials familiar with the breach said the Chinese stood to gain valuable intelligence.

The database included information about court orders authorizing surveillance, which could have signaled active espionage investigations into Chinese agents who maintained e-mail accounts through Google's Gmail service.

"Knowing that you were subjects of an investigation allows them to take steps to destroy information, get people out of the country," one former official speaking on the condition of anonymity says. The Chinese could also have sought to deceive U.S. intelligence officials by conveying false or misleading information.

Google did admit to an intrusion by Chinese hackers in 2010, but made no reference to the breach of the database with information on court orders. That breach prompted deep concerns in Washington and led to a heated, months-long dispute between Google and the FBI and Justice Department over whether the FBI could access technical logs and other information about the breach, according to the officials.

A senior Microsoft official suggested last month that Chinese hackers had targeted the company's servers about the same time that Google's system was compromised. Microsoft concluded that whoever was behind the breach was seeking to identify accounts that had been tagged for surveillance by U.S. national security and law enforcement agencies.

"What we found was the attackers were actually looking for the accounts that we had lawful wiretap orders on," David W. Aucsmith, senior director of Microsoft's Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments said.

"If you think about this, this is brilliant counterintelligence," he said in the address. "You have two choices: If you want to find out if your agents, if you will, have been discovered, you can try to break into the FBI to find out that way. Presumably that's difficult. Or you can break into the people that the courts have served paper on and see if you can find it that way. That's essentially what we think they were trolling for, at least in our case."

Microsoft now disputes that its servers had been compromised as part of the cyber-espionage campaign that targeted Google and about 20 other companies.

The U.S. government has been concerned about Chinese hacking since at least the early 2000s, when network intrusions were discovered at U.S. energy labs and defense contractors.

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