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Computing January 2010

CyberSpy vs. CyberSpy: Google in China

By John R. Quain
Why Google may have to abandon China

It isn't just Google, and it isn't just China. Security experts say there's a raging, worldwide cyberwar going on behind the scenes, and governments and businesses across the globe need to be on alert.

Google At least 20 countries, in addition to China, are actively engaged in so-called asymmetrical warfare,a term that originated with counterterrorism experts but which now commonly refers to cyber attacks designed to destabilize governments. Countries engaged in this activity range from so-called friendly nations, such as the United Kingdom and Israel, to less friendly governments like those of North Korea, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

"There are least 100 countries with cyber espionage capabilities," warns Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, an information security and training firm. Today there are thousands of hackers working on such programs around the world, "including al Qaeda cells that are acting as training centers for hackers," he said.

"It's been a widespread problem for some time," says University of Texas at San Antonio professor and cyber security researcher Ravinderpal Sandhu. Paller and others agree, adding that the recent Google incident -- in which the Internet giant discovered e-mail and corporate sites had been extensively hacked by programmers on the Chinese mainland -- represents just the tip of the iceberg.

"The Chinese air force has an asymmetrical warfare division" charged with developing cyberwarfare techniques to disable governments' command and control systems, says Tom Patterson, chief security officer of security device manufacturer MagTek Inc. "They are fully staffed, fully operational and fully active. And when you aim a governmental agency that size against any company, even the size of Google -- well, it's an overwhelming force," Patterson says.

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Why Google Should Leave China


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