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Google Users To Get Email Warnings About State Sponsored Cyber Attacks

Google Users To Get Email Warnings About State Sponsored Cyber Attacks

On Tuesday, the most popular internet search engine, Google, announced plans it would alert users about state sponsored cyber attacks through Google’s free email service. Gmail users will receive email alerts if the company suspects that an account has been compromised, or is at risk of a cyber threat. Google has yet to divulge information detailing how they will assess these risks.
The Google action is in addition to already robust internet security measures adopted by governments to thwart cyberterrorist threats. While necessary in protecting citizens, activist groups like Reporters Without Borders claim proactive government action against cyberthreats could be abused, limiting citizen’s ability to freely use the Internet for correspondence and political organizing. With social media playing a key role in the emergence of popular protest movements across the Middle East in 2011, governments worldwide are taking a more prominent role in monitoring citizen correspondence and limiting Internet freedoms in various insidious ways.

New warning system
Speaking about the threats of cyber attacks, Google’s Vice President of security engineering Eric Grosse warned of the various ways in which individuals can be targeted. In a company blog post Grosse described “phishing”, an email designed by hackers to trick users into providing credit card numbers and personal information. Harmful viruses, such as malware could also be contained in email correspondence as well.
In an effort to protect their subscribers, Google has launched a pre-emptive warning system that will alert users with the ominous email, “Warning: we believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer. Protect yourself now.”
Users who see this alert are not necessarily in immediate danger of a cyber attack, but will be encouraged to change personal passwords and usernames as a precautionary measure. The precise reasons for the program are unknown as Google declined to comment further when reached for a statement.
The decision by Google, one of the largest internet search engines, represents an “inevitable maturity”, according to Matt Devost in a recent Washington Post statement.
Devost, who is president of cyber-security firm Fusion X adds, “It’s the new reality of operating these cloud-based e-mail services when you have millions of customers. Google already does a good job of filtering out spam or junk e-mail. Why wouldn’t they apply that expertise to filtering out malware?”
However, the curious part of the Google project is the specific warnings “against state-sponsored attackers” rather than hackers more generally. While untangling the web of illicit activity on the Internet may be a difficult task, the battles between countries have increasingly been waged on the Internet.

Cyber attacks Against Iran
Last week, a dire warning was issued, warning countries against a computer virus that has threatened the internet security of Iran and other countries in the Middle East. Commenting on the issue, cybersecurity coordinator for the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Marco Obsco said, “This is the most serious [cyber] warning we have ever put out.”
The “Flame” virus is considered a dangerous tool that could adversely affect infrastructure in Iran, Syria and other countries in the Middle East. While reports on the origin of the virus were inconclusive, many suspect that the Flame virus was co-engineered by Israel and the United States.
Previously, the Stuxnet computer virus, a sophisticated “worm,” was unleashed against Iran as early as 2008. The program dubbed, “Olympic Games” by the Obama administration, continued bellicose Bush-era policies against the supposed Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Even after the cyber worm was accidentally released to the broader Internet community, cabinet discussions within the Obama administration revealed that officials, including then director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, opted to push forward with the cyber attacks.
In the Summer of 2010, the Stuxnet virus briefly disabled 1,000 of the nearly 5,000 operational centrifuges at the Natanz Iranian nuclear facility. According to an early June New York Times report, U.S. intelligence estimates reveal that Iran abandoned the majority of its weapons programs in 2003. However, the increased risk of cyber threats has led Iran to develop a military cyber unit in response to recent attacks.
In a recent public statement, head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali said that “the Iranian military is prepared to fight our enemies, in cyberspace and Internet warfare.” While there is no evidence to suggest that the Iranian government has launched a counter cyber attack, U.S. authorities at the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security remain vigilant in their fight to protect government and citizens from international cyber attacks.
President Obama has previously called cyber terrorism “one of the most serious economic and national security threats our nation faces.” However, other governments, supposedly operating under the guise of protecting citizens, have overstepped boundaries, infringing upon the privacy and rights of citizens to use the internet freely.
Enemies of the Internet: government surveillance and censorship
The use of the Internet as a mobilizing force has given rise to the, “netizen”, a citizen who use the internet for social and political causes. The term has gained popular currency through the work of Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit 501 c3 organization advocating for press freedoms and unrestricted Internet use.
In the annual report on press freedoms, including freedom for bloggers and writers to disseminate their work on the Internet, a number of countries including China, Iran, North Korea and Eritirea received the worst ratings for press freedoms, with significant government censorship of Internet liberties.
Not surprising, a number of countries in the Middle East that have experienced uprisings associated with the ongoing Arab Spring protests also ranked poorly, with Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, claiming the undesirable title as being among the most repressive in the world. Reporting on the precipitous rise in government crackdowns, Reporters Without Borders adds commentary to the 2011/2012 on their website:
“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011. Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”
Egypt, among the 14 worst violators of internet freedoms, shut down the majority of internet access in an attempt to quell massive uprisings last year. Although the largest street protests against the Mubarak regime occurred after the broad restrictions on Internet and cell phones, the organizing role of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter is undeniable.
Conversely, world leaders in press freedom were concentrated mostly in Northern Europe. Finland, Norway, Estonia and the Netherlands all received top marks, boasting nearly blemish free records and minimal government interference in press freedoms and citizen Internet use.
As government surveillance continues to rise in response to state sponsored cyber threats, citizens and journalists may face unprecedented restrictions due to precipitous rise in international cyber conflicts.

source: MPN


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