The investigation into the hacking attacks on Google took a further twist over the weekend when two schools alleged to have been the source of the attacks strongly disputed suggestions they were involved.
Their denials followed a New York Times report last week that the hacks had been traced back to computers at Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School in China.
Chinese authorities have dismissed the idea that they had any involvement, claiming their anti-hacking policy is ‘transparent and consistent’. Having been unable to log on to the BBC at any point during a trip I made to Beijing, and with our experience with the firewall we discovered on some China-bought software we used in the office stopping us accessing any web content with the word ‘defence’, transparent isn’t a word that immediately springs to mind.
However, the efforts to pin the blame on someone for the Google hacks reminds me of a conversation I had a while back with Marcus Sachs, director of the SANS Internet Storm Center and a former White House cyber security official, about attacks originating from China.
He told me that attribution of attacks is extremely difficult as Chinese computer users are, if anything, more prone than Westerners to bots and malware as there’s an even greater use of pirated software, making it harder to keep things like anti-virus protection software up-to-date. He also said that the sheer number of users in China means that there’s inevitably going to appear to be a great deal of activity, including data being sent back home by curious Chinese studying abroad.
So, the unsatisfactory conclusion is basically that it’s really difficult to know for sure who’s responsible–with or without Chinese ‘transparency.’