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Surveillance Backdoor Enabled Chinese Gmail Attack? 143

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-blame-the-government-now dept.
Major Blud writes "CNN is running an opinion piece on their front page from security technologist Bruce Schneier, in which he suggests that 'In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.' His article is short on sources, and the common belief is that a flaw in IE was the main attack method. Has this come up elsewhere? Schneier continues, 'Whether the eavesdroppers are the good guys or the bad guys, these systems put us all at greater risk. Communications systems that have no inherent eavesdropping capabilities are more secure than systems with those capabilities built in. And it's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state.'"
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Surveillance Backdoor Enabled Chinese Gmail Attack?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Larry & Sergey To Cash In $5.5B of Google Chips

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:24PM (#30878992) Journal

    His article is short on sources

    Agreed so I visited his blog and a recent post is equally scant [schneier.com]. He points back to another blog post with a little more [schneier.com] but really he's just pointing out the irony of a new proposed bill outlawing Google's collaboration with China in violating human rights issues. The irony being that the US has asked for similar backdoors from Google already.

    So here's my problem: More frequently Schneier acts as a reputable news source 'breaking' a story [slashdot.org] without citing the originator of the information. This is fine when it's a big paper like the New York Times but Schneier runs a blog on security. That's it. He might be a first hand expert but if so why isn't he showing and describing his conclusive evidence that the US mandated backdoor is how Chinese hackers gained entry? There's no doubt the software is less secure with a backdoor -- by definition -- but when he says:

    In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.

    He better be able to back it up. And he reiterates:

    China's hackers subverted the access system Google put in place to comply with U.S. intercept orders.

    I just want to caution everyone that you're reading an opinion piece by a security blogger with no corroborating evidence. And on top of that, he has zero accountability. In fact, he says none of this on his blog, he leaves it as an op-ed on CNN. Read it like a strange click generating opinion piece and nothing more.

    I have respect for the man but this certainly shakes that. Any concrete proof of this would be welcomed. The problem is I'm not sure how one would prove it one way or the other since I believe all the source in question is closed source to begin with.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:32PM (#30879064)

      There was the following report:
      http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9144221/Google_attack_part_of_widespread_spying_effort

      That's because they apparently were able to access a system used to help Google comply with search warrants by providing data on Google users, said a source familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press. "Right before Christmas, it was, 'Holy s***, this malware is accessing the internal intercept [systems],'" he said.

      That is not a backdoor. But it did concern me that google is actively preserving all of this information that could be used in the future for good or ill by anyone.

      • That is not a backdoor. But it did concern me that google is actively preserving all of this information that could be used in the future for good or ill by anyone.

        So what ?
        That's *E-MAIL* we're speaking about. The damn thing transits unencrypted all over the web. It has the inherent security of a post card : anyone who would like to read it, could.
        To keep the metaphor : it doesn't change anything that the US government can peek into your mail box or even try to steal your mail, because every single postman who handled the post-card between the author and you has got a chance to see it too.

        You want true secure mail ? Use END-to-END encryption. As in author encrypts th

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sopssa (1498795) *

      If US government want and have these, why wouldn't China? It's not that far fetched, and it's probably better for Google to say it was some virus planted on their system rather than have news all over the internet that China has such in place too. And it could be that US operations didn't know about it, Google China is its independent operation after all and why they're maybe pulling off.

      I think it was AT&T or Verizon that we had /. article recently about how US government used their backdoor tons of ti

      • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:56PM (#30879332) Journal

        If US government want and have these, why wouldn't China? It's not that far fetched, and it's probably better for Google to say it was some virus planted on their system rather than have news all over the internet that China has such in place too. And it could be that US operations didn't know about it, Google China is its independent operation after all and why they're maybe pulling off.

        This supposition just raises more questions in my mind though. 1) What do you mean by "independent operation" because it's still a subsidiary of Google [wikipedia.org] and I'm sure utilizes much of the exact replicated technology. 2) Why in the world would Google enforce an American law in China [askcalea.net]? 3) If Google were providing this intercept data as access to the Chinese government then why in the hell would the Chinese government break in to steal email data from human rights activists? (From the original source [blogspot.com], they suspect it was the government because the target was 'accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists') Why would the government need to gain malware access to the system that's put in place for them to access?

        It just doesn't add up in so many ways. Every explanation seems to have more questions behind it. I'm almost tempted to say this was someone from Baidu or a criminal element in China or Russia that covered up all their tracks except those deliberately left to be political. But I'm getting into tin foil hat territory there.

        I think it was AT&T or Verizon that we had /. article recently about how US government used their backdoor tons of times to gather info and that it would had been impossible to handle manually. Why wouldn't Google, one of the largest US companies, have similar system?

        All big time communications operations have to worry about this. It sucks but it's the law [askcalea.net]. The question remains, however, what is that doing in China and if they're doing it for Chinese law, why did the government need to hack their own system set up to serve them?

        • by Glonoinha (587375)

          I believe what's being implied here is that Google lied about the vector by which the Chinese gained access, in order to cover up the real (dare I say 'Evil'?) vector.

          I'm going to go out on a limb and extrapolate here :

          1. Google has a simple interface by which the US Government can do the exact same thing.
          2. Chinese Government figured out how to access it. [*]
          3. Chinese Government does it, same as the US Government has been doing for a while.
          4. Chinese Government access gets discovered.
          5. Heard somewhere i

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I heard from a third- or fourth-hand source, that Google has a separate network for the workstations that do legal e-discovery, and that was what was compromised.

            Legal e-discovery is a fact of life. People sue each other, and the court wants the email evidence. This was news during Enron....

            Anyway, I heard that the malware was specifically crafted for the Google e-discovery machines. The IE Exploit is probably the truth. The question then becomes "how did the machines on the separate network get access

      • it was sprint, and it was not a backdoor it was a GPS locating service they gave them an open door to access.
    • Google + ChiCom Gov (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WED Fan (911325)
      It is not beyond belief that Google made certain concessions to the Chinese Government. Eventually, any concession to ANY government is going to bite the company and the user in the ass. Or, in the case of the Chinese, put a lethal 9mm sized hole in the head.
      • by Jerry (6400) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @04:52PM (#30881974)

        This episode reminds me of a Microsoft claim made seven years ago:

        http://forums.macrumors.com/archive/index.php/t-21643.html/ [macrumors.com]
        March 06, 2003

        According to its own testimony at its anti-trust trial last year, Microsoft Corporation, purveyor of the omnipresent Office and Windows product lines, has betrayed the United States of America.

        Microsoft has been struggling over the past year to slow the loss of international market share to cheaper, Linux-based alternatives. To that end, it recently began sharing the source code of its Windows operating system with various foreign governments. The problem is that this initiative comes just months after Jim Allchin, Microsoft's head of Windows development, claimed under oath that releasing such code to its competitors would be a major risk to American national security.

        The disconnect between the software giant's actions and claims became even more striking last week when Microsoft announced that the second major nation to receive a tour of Windows' plumbing will be the People's Republic of China.

        China is not America's ally. China is not our friend. At best, our two nations tolerate each other. At worst, we are on a cultural collision course that could dwarf the Cold War. And now Microsoft is planning to give China information that it has claimed could seriously compromise American security. Thanks a lot, Mr. Gates.

    • by amiga3D (567632)
      I suspect that going into detail about a backdoor system put into place by the government would be hazardous to his freedom. I'd bet the details are classified.
      • by Shark (78448)

        But I thought the government was supposed to protect freedom... What are we going to do?

    • I just want to caution everyone that you're reading an opinion piece by a security blogger with no corroborating evidence.

      And how is he going to get the documentation now? Sue? The government steps in and claims state secrets, case dismissed. Ask Google for the documentation that admits they cooperated with a secret government program to spy on Americans? Bad for business and then they'd face federal criminal prosecution.

      He probably has sources, but wants to protect them. Can't quote your sources, c

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by eldavojohn (898314) *

        Ask Google for the documentation that admits they cooperated with a secret government program to spy on Americans?

        What 'secret government program to spy on Americans'? Read the article. They mention the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA) [askcalea.net]. Here is Wikipedia's summary if you don't have the stomach for legalese [wikipedia.org]. You can read all about how it went in during Clinton's administration and has been enjoyed by every administration since (a lost freedom is rarely won back) and will continue to be enjoyed for a long time coming.

        So Google is afraid to reveal what the law (CALEA) forces them

        • by Glonoinha (587375) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:47PM (#30879800) Journal

          Where does the money that the government pays the companies come from? Taxes.
          Who pays these taxes? The same people being spied on.

          So yes. the consumer is paying for the overhead so they can be spied on.

        • by chill (34294) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:52PM (#30879872) Journal

          Get out, get vocal, tell people, tell average people on the street when they hang up their phone that all that information just got logged for the government.

          That isn't quite how it works. Other than the normal billing logs, the phone companies do NOT log all the data, much less voice logs, without a specific request.

          I spent 2 years helping implement CALEA for Sprint/Nextel and was the point person for much of the integration. The simple truth is, the telecom companies don't have the storage capacity to log all the niggling details that CALEA requires for everyone. Hell, if the link between the CO and the LEO goes down, they're only required to store call data, not voice. That is all the button pushes, numbers called, etc. Voice is uploaded live and if the link is down, so is the voice collect.

          Normal billing records include the phone number, direction and duration. CALEA records include EVERYTHING -- cell tower connected to, buttons pushed, call response, number of rings, text messages, multi-party calls, etc.

          The truth is, the gov't DOESN'T log everything every time you use a phone. And no, on the cell networks I've worked on, they don't even listen for "key words" ala ECHELON unless it goes international.

          Unless, of course, you or another party on the line is a target.

          • by russotto (537200) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @02:21PM (#30880252) Journal

            That isn't quite how it works. Other than the normal billing logs, the phone companies do NOT log all the data, much less voice logs, without a specific request.

            I don't know about cell. But on land lines, they DO log everything. The switches emit raw call record data. The billing logs are produced from the call record data.

            • by wvmarle (1070040)

              I think what the GP means with "voice logs" is the actual spoken words, the sounds, carried along the lines. That, afaict, is not normally stored. I don't think they are even allowed to store that data (which is in effect listening in to phone calls) without a warrant.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by muckracer (1204794)

            > I spent 2 years helping implement CALEA for Sprint/Nextel and
            > was the point person for much of the integration.

            Thanks for the info, chill. Say, how do you sleep at night knowing you're part of the problem...as in destroying everything this country once stood for?

            • by chill (34294)

              Something I asked myself before accepting the job. Here is my answer...

              First, it was going to happen anyway. Someone would have done it because it has been in place for some time and there seemed to be no issue with telecom companies more than willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the gov't and wiretapping. In is inevitable.

              No, the answer isn't "well if everyone refused to do it..." because the country has no shortage of people who think that only the bad guys have problems with wiretapping and t

              • Appreciate your explanation, chill. Thanks!

                The first part I don't quite accept as it is a mere attempt at rationalization (IMHO).

                The second part, however, I can relate to. Interesting. The question arises, of course, ... now that you have all that inside knowledge what do you do with it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > The problem is I'm not sure how one would prove it one way or the other since I believe all the source in question is closed source to begin with.

      I can't prove it is there but I know it is.

      A year so ago I was under consideration for a position with a defense firm looking to beef up for the coming Cyber War feeding frenzy. A half hour after I signed my life away on the clearance background checks and such they started asking questions that sounded oddly familiar. After two or three questions I reali

    • by PugPappa (1569423) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:54PM (#30879318)

      So here's my problem: More frequently Schneier acts as a reputable news source 'breaking' a story [slashdot.org] without citing the originator of the information. This is fine when it's a big paper like the New York Times but Schneier runs a blog on security. That's it.

      So what makes it ok for a "big paper like the New York Times" to publish unsubstantiated claims? We shouldn't disengage our critical thinking regardless of the source.

      • So what makes it ok for a "big paper like the New York Times" to publish unsubstantiated claims? We shouldn't disengage our critical thinking regardless of the source.

              That's quite a good question you have there. Should be interesting to see the rationization^H^H^H^H^H^H^H, sound reasoning behind that statement.

        • by chihowa (366380)

          rationization^H^H^H^H^H^H^H

          You know, a good old fashioned ^W would save a little time and keyboard mashing.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by t0p (1154575)
          If papers and news sites carried only substantiated stories they'd be pretty boring. And small.
      • by bmajik (96670)

        Well, the New York Times is a clearinghouse for political hacks masquerading as professionals. It is a hive of villiany and evil. It is utterly and completely irredeemable unless you have a particular sense of humor, in which case it is probably funny sometimes.

        But everyone knows this. It's water under the bridge, and intelligent people moved on. Do New Yorkers even read it?

        Bruce, on the other hand, is a decent guy, wickedly smart, and we (the computing world, nevermind computer security) have a lot to

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:05PM (#30879400)

      "He better be able to back it up."

      He doesn't have to. I'll explain later. In fact, reactionary posts like yours and the /. article is an inhibitor in favor of backdoors like this, instead of being patient and seeing what comes out. You are attacking the holder of the opinion, redirecting focus to the very real case of government backdoors and general population communication abuses, which has been proved, real, and pronounced (see AT&T eavesdropping and others).

      Which is a shitload worse than Schneier mere opinion, even if unsubstantiated (which is worse than uncorroborated) on the matter.

      "I just want to caution everyone that you're reading an opinion piece by a security blogger with no corroborating evidence." ,,,in the story. He may have corroborating evidence, but is smart enough not to put it forward for both his sake, his sources sake, and/or as bait.

      If he had that evidence, he'd be held for obtaining classified information without a due security clearance and prosecuted.

      "I have respect for the man but this certainly shakes that. Any concrete proof of this would be welcomed. The problem is I'm not sure how one would prove it one way or the other since I believe all the source in question is closed source to begin with."

      Very true and you start in on the crux of this matter of releasing source info. However, I think you are looking at this as overly critical of Schneier, instead of looking at the whole picture. He lives in the real world, he has to live with the repercussions to his life, far more than you or I.

      If he releases the info and has a source, Schneier himself gets prosecuted or at least subpoena'd for his source, and if he refuses to reveal it, he gets locked up. His source, at the very least, can be revealed and gets pounded (and people like you won't do a think and can't). And Schneier loses future use of his source. iow, at the very best, he can only suggest his opinion, which is what he is doing.

      If he simply airs the idea out there, knowing it's true, that's fine by me. Maybe it isn't for you, but he's been right far far more often than not so in this case, I think people should look at the bulk of his work instead of just one instance that has yet to play out fully. If he continues to do this repeatedly for other issues, then yes, I'd start to shift in your opinion of the man. But I haven't seem him abuse his reputation. iow, if this is a lapse, it's unfortunate, but Schneier is human, and I doubt it's a lapse of judgment.

      If he doesn't have a source, but has evidence, and isn't sure, he may be airing this out there without corroborating evidence (having no substantial evidence of course), to see what happens. If they go after him, then you have a tell tale sign. If there are code changes, again, tell tale sign. If he gets harrassed or hammered by 3 letter agencies, again, tell tale (and maybe this has already happened).

      If he simply just threw it out there, then, yeah, shame on him, but again, I haven't seen him do this in the past, so I'm very willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since his contributions, sources, and info in the past has been spot on. His hands may be tied in this case or he's being careful (esp. with a new administration that still has strong ties in the agencies to the prior administration, with a pro-prosecutional bent to it to go after small fries which Schneier would be in the grand scheme of things in the populace).

      Your opinion will likely differ on this, but as you seem well aware of his legacy, I think it's over done to be this critical this early in the game.

    • If there is no back door, Google should deny it unequivocally. If Google does not deny it, unequivocally, I think it would be appropriate to change the way we (many of us) think of Google.

    • by nevesis (970522) *
      Schneier is, in my opinion, a much more reputable source than the New York Times.
    • by TwineLogic (1679802) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:23PM (#30879558)
      Schneier is not primarily a 'blogger,' although that may be how we most frequently encounter him. As the publisher of the renowned book "Applied Cryptography," Schneier is a recognized domain expert in the field of security.

      Therefore it is possible, even likely, that Schneier has directly received information pertinent to the attack. Someone assigned to the investigation may have phoned him up to consult his opinion, if nothing else. Given the progressive techno-legal opinion he wrote, I think it is just as possible that someone from the investigation 'leaked' information to Scheneier about the use of the CALEA interface.

      By the way, for those who doubt that there is a 'backdoor' to gmail, CALEA is a law which _mandates_ a law enforcement backdoor, either through manual procedures or through computational interface. It sounds like Google has implement a CALEA interface, and China used an IE6 vulnerability to hack first Google, then used the CALEA interface to monitor specific accounts.

      The nice thing about using the CALEA interface is that I presume this would not give any clue to the monitored user that the account is being monitored. Logging in with the user's password, as a contrary example, updates the IP usage information displayed by gmail.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.

      He better be able to back it up.

      He doesn't really need to, for the same reason this is not exactly news, just sensationalist spin on something obvious.

      Every email system has a "back door." Every email system maintainer has to comply with search warrants and with discovery requests for ESI [wikipedia.org]. The same goes for file shares, calendars, any kind of electronic records you have, just as it does for paper records, audio tapes, photos, or any other kind of record.

      Compliance for ESI requests can range from logging in as root and tarring up some f

    • by DeadPixels (1391907) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @02:15PM (#30880178)
      He's partially right, but equally wrong.

      Computer World [computerworld.com] quotes an anonymous source "familiar with the situation" as saying:

      That's because they apparently were able to access a system used to help Google comply with search warrants by providing data on Google users, said a source familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press. "Right before Christmas, it was, 'Holy s***, this malware is accessing the internal intercept [systems],'" he said.

      According to that article, what Google had was an internal system that could pull limited amounts of account information to comply with law enforcement requests, not a backdoor that gave access to the account in question. Also, it appears that the malware/attack in question didn't "subvert the system" so much as it piggybacked onto a computer with access and got in that way.

      So while he's right as to the general purpose of the system, he seems to be pretty wrong as far as the scope of the 'backdoor'.

      • by rrohbeck (944847)

        what Google had was an internal system that could pull limited amounts of account information to comply with law enforcement requests, not a backdoor that gave access to the account in question.

        What's the difference? You can be sure that the LEA access method allows access to everything that's interesting, in particular the content of emails. Yeah they would probably not be able to send email from that account and similar mischief but you can be sure they had full read access to everything,

    • And on top of that, he has zero accountability.

      Reputations are very expensive to build and very costly to lose. Bruce rarely makes bad calls in his field.

  • really... (Score:2, Funny)

    by duanco (958176)
    a back door to a hosted email service....and this fellow is an expert? Guess he was never an admin anywhere......
    • by bschorr (1316501)
      Seems to me a hosted email service essentially IS a backdoor. I can already get into the e-mail accounts of any server I'm the admin of - hence the power of Admin. Heck, not only do they own the admin accounts, they own the physical servers.

      You haven't handed them the keys, they made (and own) the locks!
      • Yeah...while google is not making a unix user account for everyone, there is probably some system equivalent to 'su' (maybe they just login with "ChuckNorris1").
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      Hmmm, a hosted email system is a bazaar, not a cathedral. There are no doors or walls to speak of, much like Haiti after the earthquake...
  • The whole telecommunications industry has been in bed with the government for years. Is it niave to think that data warehouses would be approached differently?
    • by Sique (173459)

      How do you think a wiretap works?
      Did you ever believe there was a time when a wiretap was nearly impossible?
      So yes. The telecommunications industry is in bed with the government. Since 172 years [wikipedia.org] at least.

      PS: For some telecommunications equipment I actually know how the intercept interface works. Because I administer them.

      • by Animats (122034) on Monday January 25, 2010 @03:37AM (#30887034) Homepage

        Did you ever believe there was a time when a wiretap was nearly impossible?

        It used to be far more difficult. In the electromechanical switching era, there was no built-in support for wiretaps. Somebody had to physically wire into the appropriate cable pair, either near the phone being tapped or in the central office. New York Telephone would only do that if they got a court order, and they'd then bill the law enforcement organization for a private line. When Giuliani was a prosecutor taking down the New York Mafia, there was much grumbling about the million dollar a year phone bill for wiretaps. There was one embarrassing situation when the FBI didn't pay their wiretap bill on time, and the billing software billed the party being wiretappped for their "additional extension".

        It was possible to listen in on an line using the Automatic Line Insulation Test equipment, but a typical central office only had two ALIT units, and they had line testing work to do, so tying up one for wiretapping really irked telcos. Sometimes telcos would do that for the FBI, but not for local law enforcement.

        Because of this, wiretapping was rare. It was just too much work to be used lightly.

        As for call data, the original "pen register" was a physical device hooked to one line which produced dashes on a paper tape for dial pulses. The electromechanical central offices didn't store any data about local calls; only toll calls produced a billing record. Law enforcement agencies that wanted information about toll calls could only get it for the calling party, in the form of a copy of the phone bill. The data wasn't sorted by receiving party.

        Now, it's too easy. All the call data is in indexed databases, and CALEA has huge capacity for recording calls.

      • Since 172 years [wikipedia.org] at least.

        FYI, this doesn't actually parse. Suggested valid parses:

        Since 1838 at least.
        For 172 years at least.

        Even better:

        Since at least 1838.
        For at least 172 years.

        This usage must have poor mapping to other languages, it's a very common misconstruction.

    • > The whole telecommunications industry has been in bed with the government
      > for years.

      For values of "in bed" near "Shut up and do as you are told or we will put you out of business."

  • His article has zero citations supporting his assertion. He has provided only evidence that it is possible. I'm not saying he's wrong, but this article is pure garbage.

    • source (Score:4, Informative)

      by Charles Dodgeson (248492) <jeffrey@goldmark.org> on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:47PM (#30879250) Homepage Journal

      When I blogged about this [blogspot.com] the week before last, I was relying on an article [computerworld.com] in Computer World which talked about the intruders gaining access to "a system used to help Google comply with search warrants by providing data on Google users."

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Thank you for having more integrity than the combination of CNN and Bruce Schneier. (I figure it's not impossible that there was a citation that was removed by the editor. But I'd need to see some evidence that Bruce did his homework before I'll forgive him.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Thanks, but I think that people are being too hard on Schneier. The Computer World article that I cited is based on an "unnamed source" who is "not authorized to speak to the press." Obviously that article should have been cited, but I that oversight in citation is a blunder, not something that challenges the integrity of Schneier.

          But it is consistent with the official report out of Google, which stated that the Gmail accounts themselves were not compromised, and that the information stolen was subject li

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Thanks, but I think that people are being too hard on Schneier.

            there's been more than enough time to issue a correction, and IIRC bruce posts here on occasion so he has little excuse for not knowing what is coming out of what he's said. It's irresponsible at best; Further, CNN should have vetted this article and stopped him from making such a mistake. If they've given him carte blanche to post anything he wants, it's their failure to consider their image as well; but clearly an editor has seen the article, at least from the editor's note at the top. So as I say, they c

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by t0p (1154575)
              What exactly has Schneier done that needs a retraction? He's written an unsubstantiated op-ed piece: just like the thousand other unsubstantiated op-ed pieces on a thousand other news sites. It might be lazy journalism but it isn't a crime...
              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                What exactly has Schneier done that needs a retraction? He's written an unsubstantiated op-ed piece:

                False. He has written an article in which he makes declarative statements. It does not say "I believe that this is what happened", it says "this is what happened". This implies further knowledge of how the crime was perpetrated. It's being presented by him as news, not opinion. As such, he has an obligation to provide some evidence. The tone is absolutely relevant!

                It might be lazy journalism but it isn't a crime...

                Unless it turns out to be false, in which case it is libel, specifically because he made declarative statements instead of saying "I suspect that

    • However, I agree with you.

      I think that even for a guy who is so good at self marketing as Schneier this is a WAY too obvious attempt to grab publicity as well as sound off over his hobby topic. I'm not saying he's right or wrong (as I do not have access to facts on either side of the argument), I just think this is a diplomatic spat brought on by Google execs because they want to sell stock.

      I would shut up until the politicians have stopped playing, but I think he's trying to ride the publiciy, and it ma

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        It might be opinion, but he's stating it as fact without any supporting citations, not even citing an unnamed source. This costs credibility. Even if he turns out to be right, I'd expect him to explain where he got the information (at least in general terms) if he's gong to maintain credibility. A stopped analog clock, and all that.

      • > I just think this is a diplomatic spat brought on by Google execs because
        > they want to sell stock.

        They want to depress the price just before they start selling? Sure. That makes a lot of sense.

        • by cheros (223479)

          No, they are selling over time. They cannot afford to show that China wasn't quite as much a walk in the park as other countries, and that they have not been able to crowd out the competition (not always easy with a controlled market anyway) because that *would* hit the stock, so it's back to the "do no evil" theme, casually ignoring the fact that that wasn't a problem until now.

          I fail to see any other way to link up "you have been hacking us" with ".. so we want to go uncensored", as far as I know I have

  • by etymxris (121288) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:41PM (#30879174)

    The backdoor in question is likely only available on Google's internal network. If it's guarded by VPN, this is fairly secure. Of course, there are many ways to hack into a company's internal network, as the Chinese hack demonstrates. But the law enforcement interface isn't uniquely problematic in this regard. Once you're into the internal network, there are all types of things you can do.

    The real problem here is pen register taps, and it's application to email. The police can get as much "traffic analysis" information as they want without a warrant. This law enforcement interface was designed to allow easy access to this information, further invading our privacy through warrantless activities.

    * All email header information other than the subject line, including the email addresses of the people to whom you send email, the email addresses of people that send to you, the time each email is sent or received, and the size of each email that is sent or received.
    * Your IP (Internet Protocol) address and the IP address of other computers on the Internet that you exchange information with, with timestamp and size information.
    * The communications ports and protocols used, which can be used to determine what types of communications you are sending using what types of applications.

    From the EFF [eff.org].

  • Woops!

    Wrong government.

    Sorry.

    -Hack

  • As long as you do not place restrictions on your executive branch, anything can be used to facilitate a police state. If a cop has unrestricted rights to search you, your days of privacy are over.

  • The facebook master password was "Chuck Norris"...what was google's ...Steven Seagal?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "And it's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state."

    ORLY, Bruce? Bad civic hygiene - for sure. But surely you're aware that so-called Legal Interception (LI) facilities are there in basically all communications networks used by the masses. It's not like this Google "backdoor" is anything out of the ordinary.

    And you say correctly that they are a bad thing. Although, they would not be that bad, were they used to remove corruption and organized crime. But

    • by selven (1556643)

      Putting law enforcement backdoors into services which store information is a very bad thing. The fact that it's common doesn't make it less bad. We, however, SHOULD NOT simply accept things the way they are. If we passively accept all these injustices just because they already exist, the injustices will become acceptable. From there, the enemies of freedom have a foothold and will take their intrusion of freedom and privacy to the next level, until it becomes mundane and accepted there.

      Bruce Schneier is doi

  • by Greg Hullender (621024) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:01PM (#30879378) Homepage Journal
    This item makes me feel better about Microsoft AND Google! :-)

    Seriously, it really does make a lot more sense. How could anyone at Google still be running IE 6?

    --Greg (Now I just need to find something to make me feel better about our government)

  • by lumierang (881089) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:03PM (#30879392)

    This is congruent with another report that mentioned
      Google put its Google China staff on paid leave and
    suspended their access after the incident:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/18/china-google-cyber-attack [guardian.co.uk]

          A lot of evidence points into google treating it as an internal security leak
    , and is conducting an internal audit on all its China employee. It seems
    Google has very good external security but is very vulnerable from inside .In the hacking very likely some google China employee was found to have leaked
    information that facilitate the attack. And that explain Google management's fury
      as it would be a moment as shocking for them as the
    “Cambridge Five” for British government .

        Firstly it would mean Google can no longer count on its Chinese
    employee’s loyalty when it clashes with their loyalty to China, so if
    it wants to operate in China it has to continue with a tainted staff, though that
    should have been expected for any corporation operating in a foreign country.

        Secondly it would mean there are serious security loopholes in Google
    internal management as it failed to implement a safety mechanism to
    check or limit inside attack.It this is true, pile on the fact that
    Google is already facing increasing privacy scrutiny in the US and
    Europe,it would be a heavy blow to Google’s reputation as a whole as
    it sends out the message that Google cannot be trusted with your data
    IN ANY COUNTRY.

        In my opinion Google failed to take care of its own fences,However
      Google’s genius lies in politicizing this incident ,as
    it completely shadows the question of Google’s own internal security
    vulnerability, as evidenced by the blanket omitting of this question
    in most of the news reports I have seen.It became a Good vs Evil in the news ,
    and you cannot criticizing Good ole Google
    without being grouped with the Evil Chinese Communist, can you?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TwineLogic (1679802)
      Another way to look at this is the Chinese government may have planted highly-trained professional spies inside Google.

      Not to group you with the Evil Chinese Communist, but where are you from? You sound overly sympathetic to the non-political interpretation of this, and it's sort of odd to blame the victim. It wouldn't be odd for the Evil Chinese Communist to excuse its own behavior and blame the victim, however. So, despite your 'disarming' final statement, I suspect exactly that -- not due to your crit
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Firstly it would mean Google can no longer count on its Chinese employees loyalty when it clashes with their loyalty to China,

      It's pretty damn foolish for a corporation to think that it commands better loyalty than their employee's homeland. If Google really believes that, then it deserves what it gets.

      People have a hierarchy of loyalties that are built up over their lifetime. A foreign company merely paying their checks for a few years is way, way down the list.

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      If you trust anybody external with your data you're asking for trouble. If it gets off your LAN in unencrypted form it's out. It doesn't matter if it's Google, Microsoft, Iron Mountain or anybody else.

    • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday January 25, 2010 @12:29AM (#30885952)

      With all respect to the many good Chinese, there are plenty of bad ones. Especially when it comes to money. Money gives status in China, and both are known to corrupt. China is unfortunately a very very corrupt country at the moment, and it wouldn't surprise me if those employees were simply paid off to provide such access.

      Almost every day I read in the local newspaper (in Hong Kong) about corrupt government officials being caught, and of course also corrupt businesspeople. There are always two sides to corruption. And if it is normal for the government being paid by businesses for favours, why wouldn't government officials pay off company employees for the same.

      For companies investing in China, trust in their employees is a major issue. You invest in a factory producing photo cameras, for example. Then it is quite commonplace that soon you see exact copies of your camera appear in the shops, with the exact same specifications and quality, just a lot cheaper. And it can very well be that those copies are made in your own factory in a second shift, after they are done producing your own orders. Or that the factory manager simply set up a second factory which is a copy of your own investment.

      So there being "internal security vulnerabilities" wouldn't surprise me. At all. Whether it's really national pride, or cold hard cash, or something else I can't tell, possibly a combination of it all. But with the current state of corruption in China well it's at the very least highly plausible.

  • Hmm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:22PM (#30879546) Homepage Journal
    How come when I type "backdoor entry" into google, I don't get any sites related to this attack, just massive amounts of material on anal sex. It's a cover up I tell you!
  • by turtleshadow (180842) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @02:22PM (#30880264) Homepage

    Google's stance on database security is poorly documented and certainly not open. I've yet to find comprehensive peer review of their architecture security (but then they are a for profit enterprise) and need not comply like Oracle, IBM DB2, MySQL?

    Numerous opportunities exist in the chain of data that Google is slurping through to build in "back doors" either deliberately or by "accident" expose data.

    Somehow they "parse" accounts for words, addresses, html code, etc then use those datapoints to do statistical cross references to build the ad's. Thats elementary. However since they parse EVERYTHING in the account somehow the programmer(s) have to make design decisions on how to go about it. Is there one process per type of data. One that just looks for PDF code vs keywords? Is there one process per country with applicable rules for that country? Are the configuration tables for that process well protected and not able to be circumvented?

    Google has to crack open each file, Adobe reported a breach so perhaps the attack vector was in the PDF parse/scrubber at Google.

    It would be trivial "once inside the system" to set configs to just suck out everything instead of what that particular process ought looking for and tee the result over to some obscure process or table buried deep in the DB to retrieve it later by some query.

    Once you found a marker to your target you'd just have to find the right DB keys they are associated with to get all the other data about them. Somehow every Google account has a primary or some other key that associates the data. No one is asking about low level DB security on this thread. Who exactly gets granted access to the primary and following keys and tables. Who has authority to restart processes? Are processes logged as to why they restarted with new values?

    It's quite possible there is a way to view Google accounts outside a web-interface which is what normal people think when they hear back door. Its more sophisticated than viewing the raw dump. I suspect the intrusion proved the new horizon for security: That it ispossible to "re-assemble" most if not all the account from the database(s) if you've p0wnd the DB at a low level without the need for a backdoor to the actual account nor the Google foundational OS/netstack. The Chinese probably attacked and penetrated the DB's somehow.

    I think this is the great oversight it was not just that Gmail was hacked. It is broader to say Google Accounts; gmail points to web search which is tied to Picassa, which is tied to Blogger, which is tied to youtube, etc....

    All these have to be fortified at the DB level else any other measure of security is meaningless.

  • He is trying to raise the point that perhaps this is Google's fault, not Microsoft's. And I agree, but not for the same reasons. If Google was stupid enough to use Windows internally they deserved to be hacked. They should know better.

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @02:27PM (#30880344) Journal

    Even if we accept Schneier's source at his word, an "internal intercept" system which shows traffic on an account is NOT the same as a system which feeds all your details to the government. There's a difference between a system which Google employees can use to comply with government warrants (as required by CALEA) and a system directly accessible by government officials ala AT&T.

    Still, if you think anything you send via email unencrypted anywhere in the Western world is safe from the US government (and, by extension, any government able to penetrate the US government), you're dreaming.

    • > Still, if you think anything you send via email unencrypted
      > anywhere in the Western world is safe from the US government (and,
      > by extension, any government able to penetrate the US government),
      > you're dreaming.

      Agree with you, but the problem is, that the compromised security or
      privacy is not visible to the end-user. It therefore has, among most
      people, the same amount of threat as getting poked in the rear by a
      unicorn. Hence the vast majority does not engage in protective
      measures, such as us

  • And it's bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state.

    There aren't many technologies that haven't made centralized government easier.

    The abacus. The Roman road.

    The canal. The steam engine. The railroad. The telegraph.

    The examples can be multiplied endlessly.

    The geek builds these things. The state funds these things - directly or indirectly.

    In the past, through land grants. Mail contracts.

    Someone always finds a way to work around the liberal or conservat

  • "Backdoors" into telco switches and the like should be "hardwired" to only be accessible at specific locations, by specific people, with specific reasons, with extensive logs of who saw what and when so oversight authorities (e.g. Congress, courts) can audit them.

    Each switch or server should have a dedicated network port, not connected to any network except the snooper's, over which snooping is done.

    Ideally, it would not be a "snooper's network" but rather a "snooper box," with an air-gap between it and the

  • Backdoors are not secrets.

  • Why they would need a backdoor? all the emails go in their servers.

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