In January 2010, a Tibetan woman, Seldon, a regional coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet. Simultaneously as she was reading her G-mail in Queens, someone in China was logged into her account as well. Top Google officials, including chief legal officer David Drummond, later told Seldon that the suspicious situation alerted them that she was one of the human rights activists whose electronic mail was routinely being spied upon by someone in China.
The disturbing news came at a pivotal time for the war on cyber-threats. It comes a day after the U.S and United Kindgom publicly acknowledged that nation-sponsored cyber-attacks can be deemed an act of war.
Cyber attacks are notoriously difficult to control and cost millions merely to prevent. Additionally they can cost governments millions in damages, disclose national secrets, and have the potential to bring entire nations to their knees.
Hacking groups from China such as ‘GhostNet' have caused huge issues in the past for organizations who criticize China. The offices of the Dalai Lama were hacked in 2009 by the group, and during the run up to the Beijing Olympics, cyber attacks were a daily occurrence for pro-Tibet groups.
Google alerted hundreds of people who had been deceived by a specific ‘phishing' scam targeted for Gmail users. The source of hacking originates from Jinan, the capital of Shandong province - China. The aim of the hackers is to gain complete control of users' email accounts on the Gmail sphere.
There is no direct evidence to link the hackers to the Chinese government, who are deemed to be paying the computer-literate groups for their work. However the sophistication of the attacks and their highly specific nature means direct financial gain as a motive is highly unlikely.
Google did not rule out the possibility of the attack being state-sponsored. The White House said it was investigating the claims, and Google itself is continually raising its game and introducing new steps to prevent hacking.
Although China routinely denies accusations of hacking coming from major corporations, such as Google who has complained several times of the Chinese regime hacking the Gmail accounts of human rights activists, the US has recently called its cyber-warfare capabilities 'formidable'.