UPDATED Friday at 9:35 a.m.: More details on who exactly the hackers were targeting: The Wall Street Journal reports that people who work at the White House were among those who had their Gmail passwords stolen.
The hackers were most likely hoping that the officials were sending and receiving work emails from their private accounts, even though that's against the rules. The White House has stressed that no official messages were compromised.
Original Post Thursday at 12:59 p.m.: Google announced on Wednesday that passwords of hundreds of Gmail users were stolen and private email accounts accessed. The attacks seemed to have originated in Jinan, China, and victims include Chinese political activists, officials, military personnel, and journalists in several Asian countries, and U.S. senior government officials.
On its official blog, Google explained that although the Internet has been “an amazing force for good in the world,” sneaky computer geeks have managed to trick the not-so-tech-savvy majority of people with malware and phishing scams in order to get their passwords. They then changed people’s forwarding and delegation settings. Sneaky, indeed, but not new or sophisticated, say security experts. It is “the particularly invasive approach of the attack” that has caught experts’ attention, the New York Times reports.
Google’s blog offers advice on how to better protect your account (Spoiler Alert: through 2-step verifications and stronger passwords) and asks its users to please spend 10 minutes taking steps to improve account security.
China denied the allegations on Thursday, calling the accusation “a fabrication out of thin air,” the Washington Post reports. It is hard to tell the truth. A similar attack on Google last year was traced back to China, leading to Google moving its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong. Yahoo also blamed Chinese hackers for an attack on its email service.
The White House’s National Security Council, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security have begun investigations. Google has not said which U.S. officials were affected but let’s hope that nobody kept any photographs in their Gmail accounts that cannot be identified “with certitude,” if need be.