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Google password system hit in December cyber attack: Report

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 14:25

New York: A key Google password system that
controls access by millions of users worldwide to almost all
of the company`s Web services, including e-mail and business
applications, was stolen when the search engine was hacked in
an attack emanating from China, according to a media report.

The software called Gaia was intended to enable users and
employees to sign in with their password just once to operate
a range of services, `The New York Times` reported, citing a
source close to the investigation being conducted by Google.

The intruders, who attacked Google in December last year,
"do not appear to have stolen passwords of G-mail users, and
the company quickly started making significant changes to the
security of its networks after the intrusions," it said.

Independent experts also told the daily that the "theft
leaves open the possibility, however faint, that the intruders
may find weaknesses that Google might not even be aware of."

In January, Google threatened to pull out of China as it
blamed hackers based there for infiltrating their network and
accessing e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

In March, following the persisting bad blood over
censorship, cyber attacks and hacking attempts, Google closed
its search service in China and re-routed its users to
uncensored search engines based in Hong Kong, which are
accessible in Mainland China.

The newspaper also reported that the theft began with an
instant message sent to a Google employee in China who was
using Microsoft`s Messenger programme.

By clicking on a link and connecting to a "poisoned"
Web site, the employee inadvertently permitted the intruders
to gain access to the user`s personal computer.

This led to the hackers getting access to the computers
of a critical group of software developers at Google`s
headquarters in Mountain View, California. "Ultimately, the
intruders were able to gain control of a software repository
used by the development team," the report said.

Because Google quickly learnt of the intrusion, the
extent of damage that may have been caused is difficult to
predict but experts have laid out some possibilities.

The worst case scenario, the daily said, "is that the
attackers might have intended to insert a Trojan horse ? a
secret back door into the Gaia programme and install it in
dozens of Google`s global data centres to establish
clandestine entry points."

It also appears that hackers, in Google`s case, had
precise knowledge about the names of Gaia software developers.

"They first tried to access their work computers and
then used a set of sophisticated techniques to gain access to
the repositories where the source code for the programme was
stored," the report said.


First Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 14:25

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