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Google warns Gmail users of possible state-sponsored attack

June 05, 2012|By David Pierson
  • Screenshot of the Google Online Security Blog.
Screenshot of the Google Online Security Blog. (Google)

BEIJING -- Google Inc. began warning some users of its Gmail service Tuesday that their computers may be compromised by a state-sponsored cyberattack.

The search engine company alerted the users with a pink banner on their email service, explaining the company wanted to thwart third parties from accessing their accounts.

“If you see this warning it does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked,” Eric Grosse, Google’s vice president for security engineering, said in a blog post. “It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account.”

Grosse said Google could not explain how it knew the accounts were being compromised without aiding hackers, but added, “our detailed analysis -- as well as victim reports -- strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored.”

Though Grosse did not name China, the move immediately brought the country to mind because of its suspected cyberhacking capabilities and massive online censorship apparatus.

China was accused of hacking Google and several other foreign companies in 2010. Google shuttered its China-based search engine shortly thereafter.

Grosse suggested users protect their Gmail accounts by signing up for a verification system in which Google would send a new account password through mobile text messaging.

But micro-bloggers in China tweeted Wednesday that the process was not secure because text messages were widely believed to be monitored by the Chinese authorities. 

The new warnings come a week after Google began alerting its users in China if their search terms were about to be blocked.

“By prompting people to revise their queries, we hope to reduce these disruptions and improve our user experience from mainland China,” the company said.

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