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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Microsoft & Google To Start Notifying Victims of 'State Sponsored' Hacking

Microsoft And Google To Start Notifying Victims of
'State Sponsored' Hacking

Company changes policy to notify users if government-related attacks take place after previously not alerting users when Hotmail accounts were hacked

Microsoft has announced that it will start notifying users it believes have been targeted by government-linked hackers, after failing to do so when Chinese authorities allegedly compromised over 1,000 Hotmail accounts.

Joining other US technology companies – including Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter – Microsoft said that the change in policy was designed to help users protect their data.

Scott Charney, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing division, said: “We will now notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an individual or group working on behalf of a nation state.

“We’re taking this additional step of specifically letting you know if we have evidence that the attacker may be ‘state-sponsored’ because it is likely that the attack could be more sophisticated or more sustained than attacks from cybercriminals and others.”

The change follows revelations that Microsoft corporate executives concluded that over 1,000 of the company’s Hotmail email accounts had been hacked into by elements linked to Chinese authorities over three years starting in July 2009, but did not tell users.

Targets included the emails of high-ranking Uighur and Tibetan leaders in multiple countries, African diplomats, human rights lawyers and others in sensitive positions inside China.


Microsoft, after being alerted by security company Trend Micro in 2011, patched the security holes in its web services that allowed the hackers access to the emails and to reset user passwords. But it did not alert the affected users to the intrusions and the scope of the snooping, allowing the hackers to continue their campaign, according to former Microsoft employees.

Microsoft officials did not dispute that most of the attacks came from China, including a Chinese network known as AS4808 which has been publicly attributed to China by US intelligence, but said some came from elsewhere. They did not give further details.

“We weighed several factors in responding to this incident, including the fact that neither Microsoft nor the US government were able to identify the source of the attacks, which did not come from any single country,” the company said. “We also considered the potential impact on any subsequent investigation and ongoing measures we were taking to prevent potential future attacks.”

The Chinese government “is a resolute defender of cyber security and strongly opposes any forms of cyberattacks”, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Charney said: “The evidence we collect in any active investigation may be sensitive, so we do not plan on providing detailed or specific information about the attackers or their methods. But when the evidence reasonably suggests the attacker is ‘state sponsored’, we will say so.”

Google admits Middle Eastern governments could be spying on its users as it warns of 'state-sponsored' hacking attacks

Google has launched a new effort to warn its users that they could be the victims of cyberattacks from hostile governments.

Account-holders working in international relations, development and other sensitive areas have received messages from the search giant informing them of recent efforts to spy on their online history.

The move comes after the company started detecting 'tens of thousands' of new hacking attacks originating in the Middle East.

Google is a tempting target for hackers, as it is not focussed solely on search but also offers its users services such as email, mapping and Chrome, one of the most popular web browsers.

This week, according to the New York Times, users thought to have been targeted saw a message attached to their accounts saying, 'Warning: We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.'

This is not the first time that Google has detected hostile online activity apparently coming from or supported by national governments.

The firm first issued warnings about cybersecurity to a few users in June this year - but an investigation since then has revealed many more security breaches than previously thought.

A member of Google's security team, Mike Wiacek, told the Times that 'tens of thousands of new users' would receive warnings that their accounts had been compromised.

Those who took to Twitter to report receiving the warnings include national-security journalists and employees of international think-tanks.

Mr Wiacek added that the Middle East had been a particularly common source of state-sponsored hacking attacks, with online spies active in 'a slew of different countries'.

While he refused to specify which governments were suspected to be behind the cyber-espionage, countries such as Bahrain, Iran and Turkmenistan have recently been accused of spying on dissidents through the internet.


And Iran in particular has been active in using online warfare to supplement its conventional capabilities, according to security experts.

However, many of the most spectacular instances of computer-based hostility have come from the U.S. and its allies such as Israel.

Most spectacularly, a virus known as Stuxnet which temporarily shut down Iran's nuclear program is believed to have resulted from a collaboration between the CIA and Israeli intelligence.

As well as the complex task of crippling whole computer systems, state-sponsored hackers can attempt to gather information about other regimes or on political dissidents from their own country.

Google has previously clashed with governments attempting to exert control over their citizens' use of the web.

The firm launched a Chinese version of its search engine with certain sites excluded from the results, but later pulled out of the country for fear of violating its own free-speech principles.

Wireless Camera Finder

In June, many Google users were surprised to see an unusual greeting at the top of their Gmail inbox, Google home page or Chrome browser. “Warning: We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.”
On Tuesday, tens of thousands more Google users will begin to see that message. The company said that since it started alerting users to malicious — probably state-sponsored — activity on their computers in June, it has picked up thousands more instances of cyberattacks than it anticipated.

Mike Wiacek, a manager on Google’s information security team, said in an interview on Tuesday that since Google started to alert users to state-sponsored attacks three months ago, it had gathered new intelligence about attack methods and the groups deploying them. He said the company was using that information to warn “tens of thousands of new users” that they may have been targets, starting on Tuesday.

By Tuesday afternoon, several people — many of them American journalists and foreign policy experts — had already taken to Twitter to say they had seen the warning. Noah Schactman, the editor of Wired’s national security blog “Danger Room,” tweeted: “Aaaaand I just got Google’s ‘you may be a victim of a state-sponsored attack’ notice. #WhatTookYouSoLong?” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also reported getting the message.  As did Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, a nonprofit research organization, who has written extensively about Afghanistan.


Mr. Wiacek noted that Google had seen an increase in state-sponsored activity coming from the Middle East. He declined to call out particular countries, but he said the activity was coming from “a slew of different countries” in the region.

Those findings triangulate with recent discoveries by security researchers that Middle Eastern states, including Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have used spyware to monitor citizens and activists overseas.

Last week, several American banks were hit with cyberattacks by hackers claiming Middle Eastern ties. Security researchers have said they have noticed an increase in cyberattacks originating in the region. “We absolutely have seen more activity from the Middle East, and in particular Iran has been increasingly active as they build up their cybercapabilities,” George Kurtz, the president of CrowdStrike, a computer security company, said in a recent interview.

Mr. Wiacek said there were several steps Google users, especially those who get its warning, could take to protect themselves, like changing their e-mail and account passwords, enabling Google’s two-step authentication service and running their computer software updates.

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated.

Monty Henry, Owner


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