Monday, November 29, 2010

China Vs. Google Cyber Attack Drama - - Information Leaked by Wikileaks in Not Any Kind of Confirmation

There is plenty of hype over a certain paragraph of text published by The New York Times this past Sunday, where details of a diplomatic cable said China’s Politburo was behind the recent attacks on Google. However, the cable is far from proof. If anything, it’s just yet another lead to follow.

The newest information in the China vs. Google drama comes courtesy of Wikileaks, and its efforts to disclose more than 250,000 U.S. State Department cables.

Several news organizations were given access to the information goldmine before Wikileaks made the data available to the public. In addition to The New York Times, international publications such as Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and the Guardian also had embargoed access to the data. The coverage so far has been impressive.

However, that hasn't stopped the public from jumping the gun, nor does it prevent media from creating its own hype over the subjects exposed in the Wikileaks disclosure. Such is the case when it comes to one diplomatic cable allegedly linking the Chinese government to the attacks on Google.

The New York Times report, quoted in full below, is the only thing that much of the press and public have to go on. This simple brief led to the recent FUD surrounding Google and China.

“A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported.

“The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.” - New York Times (28/11/10)

As the quote says, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy the news shortly after the attacks were made public by Google. Given that the actual cable had not been made public at the time this article went live, the only ones to see the uncensored data remain the newspapers and the staff at Wikileaks.

The first thing to take into account is that this development is HUMINT-based, meaning it is intelligence given by a human source. HUMINT data has to be confirmed, as humans can be wrong or used to report false information. Reading the report by The New York Times as is, this appears to be more hearsay than a smoking gun.

The reason the report caught so much attention was due to the sensitive nature of the entire Wikileaks saga, and the fact that the “Chinese contact” named China’s Politburo directly.

The Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China is a 25-person group that oversees the Communist Party of China (CPC). Within the Politburo, the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China wields most of the power. Usually, the top brass in the CPC makeup the power structure for the Standing Committee. Make no mistake, the five to nine men on the Standing Committee hold both influence and power. However, that alone doesn’t mean they ordered the attacks.

While no one is likely to deny that someone in China was acting aggressively, there still isn’t any solid evidence to indicate the attacks were government sanctioned. Based on the publically available data on the attack (dubbed Aurora), it’s still likely this advanced attack was executed using common methods of exploitation. This new information is perhaps a new lead to investigate, but it certainly doesn't qualify as proof.

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