Report: Google Warns Users of Possible Government Cyberattacks

A new warning message issued by Google warns users of malicious, state-sponsored emails coming from countries that Google declined to identify.

by / October 5, 2012

Between spam, chain emails and the sheer volume of information that passes through many inboxes, email has lost much of the luster it once possessed in the days of America Online and CompuServe.

Now there's something else that's unappealing. Foreign governments targeting consumers' email inboxes, according to a new warning message being issued by Google.

Viewed in a Gmail inbox, on a Google home page or in the Google Chrome browser, thousands of users received a warning that read “Your account could be at risk of state-sponsored attacks.” Google first created the warning message in June, but it appears to be picking up steam. The emails blocked by Google's new filter may contain links to malicious websites designed to steal personal information or implant malware, or they may contain malicious attachments.

Google has said they will not share how they know that certain attacks are state-sponsored, because it's a matter of security. Mike Wiacek, a manager on Google’s information security team, said that Google saw an increase in state-sponsored activity coming from several different countries in the Middle East, which he declined to name specifically, The New York Times reported.

While Google is refusing to point the finger at any particular nation of origin, the questionable practice of secretly monitoring the populace with software disguised as a crime-fighting tool was recently uncovered by security researchers studying Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Not coincidentally, Iran recently ranked worst in the world for Internet freedom, according to a Freedom House report. As a region, the report rated the Middle East as "two percent" free when it comes to the Internet.

Several American banks were hit by cyberattacks last week that reportedly came from the Middle East, The Times reported.

If President Obama's rumored cybersecurity executive order ever comes to fruition, it could prove good publicity for his administration as the issue is now being illuminated to the public in more tangible ways. Congress has yet to make significant progress on drafting legislation protecting national infrastructure from foreign cyberattacks.