Middle Eastern governments could be spying on its users as it warns of ‘state-sponsored’ hacking attacks
Google has launched a new effort to warn its users that they could be the victims of cyberattacks from hostile governments.
Account-holders working in international relations, development and other sensitive areas have received messages from the search giant informing them of recent efforts to spy on their online history.
The move comes after the company started detecting ‘tens of thousands’ of new hacking attacks originating in the Middle East
Warning: Google has sent this message to a number of at-risk users
Google is a tempting target for hackers, as it is not focussed solely on search but also offers its users services such as email, mapping and Chrome, one of the most popular web browsers.
This week, according to the New York Times, users thought to have been targeted saw a message attached to their accounts saying, ‘Warning: We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.’
This is not the first time that Google has detected hostile online activity apparently coming from or supported by national governments.
The firm first issued warnings about cybersecurity to a few users in June this year – but an investigation since then has revealed many more security breaches than previously thought.
A member of Google’s security team, Mike Wiacek, told the Times that ‘tens of thousands of new users’ would receive warnings that their accounts had been compromised.
Those who took to Twitter to report receiving the warnings include national-security journalists and employees of international think-tanks.
Target: The firm is tempting for hackers as it holds information on search, email, mapping and much more
Mr Wiacek added that the Middle East had been a particularly common source of state-sponsored hacking attacks, with online spies active in ‘a slew of different countries’.
While he refused to specify which governments were suspected to be behind the cyber-espionage, countries such as Bahrain, Iran and Turkmenistan have recently been accused of spying on dissidents through the internet.
And Iran in particular has been active in using online warfare to supplement its conventional capabilities, according to security experts.
However, many of the most spectacular instances of computer-based hostility have come from the U.S. and its allies such as Israel.
Most spectacularly, a virus known as Stuxnet which temporarily shut down Iran’s nuclear programme is believed to have resulted from a collaboration between the CIA and Israeli intelligence.
As well as the complex task of crippling whole computer systems, state-sponsored hackers can attempt to gather information about other regimes or on political dissidents from their own country.
Google has previously clashed with governments attempting to exert control over their citizens’ use of the web.
The firm launched a Chinese version of its search engine with certain sites excluded from the results, but later pulled out of the country for fear of violating its own free-speech principles.