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01.14.10

Chinese Google ‘Attack’ Involves Microsoft Windows Flaws

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 8:21 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

China satellite image

Summary: It is not Google’s fault but Microsoft’s fault that China managed to compromise accounts not just of Google but of over 20 other companies, by Microsoft’s own admission

YESTERDAY we mentioned Google’s reaction to attacks from China, which are now confirmed to be targeting different companies. It was not something against Google as Google is one among several victims and some people doubt there will be an exit from the largest Internet market.

How would leaving the Chinese market actually prevent Chinese crackers from connecting to Google servers? It would not.

Hacking Risks Persist Even If Companies Withdraw From China

Google and other enterprises still face a bleak computer security landscape that makes their companies vulnerable to hackers, whether they do business in China or not, analysts say.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation, which was found buried deep inside reports, is the role of Windows in these attacks on Google. Check this one out for example: (the emphasis in red is ours)

More sources are now claiming the Chinese government is behind the recent cyberattacks against Google and 33 other Silicon Valley companies, reports security firm Verisign iDefense. The attacks, revealed yesterday via a posting on Google’s official blog, were hacking attempts on the technology infrastructure of Google and other major corporations in sectors that included finance, technology, media and chemical, said Dave Girouard, president of Google Enterprise.

[...]

While July’s attacks were detected early and were largely uneventful, December’s attacks did find some success. In addition, these same sources claim that the files in both cases share similar characteristics. For example, both attacks used a backdoor Trojan in the form of a Windows DLL, and both share two similar hosts for the command-and-control (C&C) communication. In layman’s terms, if the cyberattack was a ground assault during a war, the C&C would be the general barking out the orders. Also in both incidents, the IP addresses used for C&C are in the same subnet and only six addresses apart from each other. That means both attacks are likely to have been instigated by the same entity and may imply that the recent victims’ technology infrastructure has been compromised since July.

When one in two Windows PCs is said to be a zombie PC, the above should not be surprising. This was a targeted attack which must have relied on China activists’ use of Microsoft Windows.

As the name suggests, the carefully crafted assaults differ from the net-cast-wide malware most often seen. A targeted attack specifically selects its victim and generally sends an e-mail using that person’s name and perhaps business title. The body of the message might reference an attached list of business contacts, or describe it as an invoice, or use any other hook that would allay suspicion and convince the victim to double-click the attachment.

Real activists do not use Windows and should use GNU/Linux. A few moments ago, our reader Jose added information that confirms the above. It’s an AP article titled “Microsoft’s browser flaw exposed Google to hackers” and it says (in the opening): “Microsoft says a security flaw in its Internet Explorer browser played a role in the recent computer attacks against Google and at least 20 other companies.”

In other news, a bank server has just been compromised and Baidu got hit by the same group that exploited Windows botnets to take down Twitter [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. We mentioned this story here and there’s more from The Register:

The same group that used a DNS attack to hijack Twitter last month has defaced the home page of Chinese search engine Baidu.

Surfers visiting Baidu site on Monday night were confronted by the message “This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army”, together with an image of the Iranian flag. Early speculation suggests the attack involved changing Baidu’s DNS records rather than a direct attack on the site itself, but this remains unconfirmed.

Baidu — unlike Google — was not a victim of customers who use Windows. Google should tell customers that it’s not Google that’s vulnerable; it’s Windows. Customers should therefore rethink their platform preferences. The same already goes for banks, for similar reasons.

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13 Comments

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    January 14, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Gravatar

    “Check this one out for example: (the emphasis in red is ours)”
    That is not enough evidence, as it do not say anything about security holes in Windows being used.
    But turned out that flaws in IE was indeed used in the attacks, again by MS’s own admission:
    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2010/01/microsoft-warns-of-ie-security-flaw-used-in-google-attacks.ars
    And technically IE is indeed part of Windows, though other web browsers work on Windows too that do not have the flaw.
    But Adobe was partly to blame too:
    http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9144378/Hackers_used_rigged_PDFs_to_hit_Google_and_Adobe_says_researcher

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    It seems like a case of “double-click to execute” in Windows, invoking proprietary software that’s vulnerable (opening of a file leading to system compromise).

    Yuhong Bao Reply:

    Nope, it did turned out to depend on a real security vulnerability, but if that was true, it would not be MS’s fault at all (unless a stupid feature like AutoPlay was used), and that is my point.

    your_friend Reply:

    Not a Microsoft flaw? Was it a Mac Botnet? A GNU/Linux botnet? An OpenSolaris or BSD botnet? How about a botnet within Google’s own servers? I don’t think win32.dll will run in any of those others. Only Microsoft computers have this kind of problem. Nailing down the exact causes of these massive attacks will be like naming ants, there are too many security problems in Windows to begin to make sense of it and the botnet masters use them all.

    Windows needs to be taken off the web before it ruins the web for everyone.

    Yuhong Bao Reply:

    Indeed, I was not claiming that the botnet runs on anything other than Windows, I was trying to say that just because that it runs on Windows doesn’t mean MS is to blame. Now it did turned out MS is indeed partly to blame, I was just saying that the cited evidence was not enough.

    Yuhong Bao Reply:

    “Was it a Mac Botnet? A GNU/Linux botnet? An OpenSolaris or BSD botnet? How about a botnet within Google’s own servers?”
    Yes, these are all in theory possible, which is why assigning blame properly is so important.

    Yuhong Bao Reply:

    Now, whether this flaw warrant a switch away from Windows would be a different matter, but I will say that it would warrant a switch away from IE, not Windows. After all, IE gets security flaws almost all the time, and do people switch away from Windows because of it? No, of course not, since you can run other browsers on Windows.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I have an update on this:

    Adobe Flaw Wasn’t Part of Attack on Google

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/187043/adobe_flaw_wasnt_part_of_attack_on_google.html?tk=rss_news

  2. NotZed said,

    January 15, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Gravatar

    I’d like to see google show some real nuts and ban microsoft products from their services, if they are the real basis of the problem.

    (TBH, I don’t have much sympathy with anyone using Microsoft Windows and being taken advantage of – in an informed world they have some responsibility for their dumb decisions too.)

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    Ten and eleven years ago, there were quite a few university IT departments which started to ban Microsoft products. You can see now how technical decisions were overridden with organized crime-like methods.

    Microsofters were complaining that University educated engineers and technical staff, ” someone on team fresh out of college”, knew better than to run Microsoft products. See slide 2:
    http://groklaw.net/staticpages/index.php?page=ComesExhN04#E9346

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    This reminds me that we ought to do more Comes-derived posts pretty soon. I’ve been sent some pointers to yet-undiscovered smoking guns.

    Yuhong Bao Reply:

    In this case, it is an IE flaw, and Google is already encouraging a switch away from IE.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Thanks. I shall do a followup post.

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