Chinese Google Cyberattack Hits Stanford Student

Undergraduate Tibetan exile got visit from Google security team

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Johnath / Flickr
    Google was alerted to someone in China snooping in on the Gmail account of a student activist on the bucolic Stanford campus.

    Stanford sophomore Tenzin Seldon has no idea how someone from China ended up with her Google account's password, but they did.

    The 20-year-old is a member of the Tibetan exile community who volunteers for Students for a Free Tibet. She was approached by Google's chief legal officer and head of security in January after it was discovered that someone in China was logged into her account.

    Seldon provided her laptop to Google, which inspected it but did not find any suspicious software installed on the machine, though software might have gleaned the password and other details and then disappeared.

    All of which are further signs of a subtle and sophisticated attack, which may have exploited weakness in Adobe's Acrobat software or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Seldon's machine was a Hewlett-Packard, likely running Windows and Acrobat PDF documents are used widely at universities.

    It lead Gawker to quip, "if you're going to fight oppression in China, use a Mac."

    "We have never ever, outside of the defense industry, seen commercial industrial companies come under that level of sophisticated attack," an executive at security software company McAfee told Wired.

    Google reportedly attempted to get dozens of other companies that were targetted in the attack to join them in a response, but in frustration eventually acted alone.  Since the security breach was announced, only a handful of other companies have come forward.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that the United States is concerned, but the country's ambassador to China, John Huntsman, says that the State Department will stay out of negotiations between Google and Chinese officials.

    Putting it in perspective, "The fact that the Chinese government is intimidated by a 20-year-old is kind of sad," Seldon told the San Jose Mercury News.

    Photo by Flickr user Johnath.

    Jackson West hates it when autocratic regimes give regular, everyday communists a bad name.