Google: US counterintelligence service was targeted by Chinese hackers
Quoting current and former government officials, the Washington Post reports that the aim of the extensive hacker attacks on Google in late 2009 was to spy on US counterintelligence information. According to the newspaper, the hackers gained access to a database which contained information about Google Gmail accounts that had surveillance orders on them.
Apparently, the thousands of orders included classified ones from a US federal court that approves surveillance on foreign targets such as spies, diplomats and suspected terrorists. The report quotes one official as saying that the attackers could have used this information to warn Chinese agents who had attracted the US authorities' attention, enabling them to take steps to destroy information and get people out of the country. According to the official, the Chinese could also have sought to deceive US intelligence officials by conveying false or misleading information.
When Google disclosed the discovered attacks in early 2010, the company said that the attack mainly targeted the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists. There was no information about a breach of a database that contained court orders. The Washington Post says that, even now, it remains unclear how much information the hackers actually obtained. Reportedly, a high-ranking Microsoft executive said only weeks ago that attackers had, at around the same time, also searched the company's servers for information on accounts that had a surveillance order on them.
Both Google and the FBI reportedly declined to comment on the newspaper article. In 2010, China denied any involvement in the hacker attacks. Instead, the country said that China itself had been the victim of the most extensive hacker attacks.