You must have heard by now that Google was the target of a “highly sophisticated” attack originating out of China. Details about the hack attack, which has been dubbed by McAfee as Operation Aurora, have been trickling in since Google’s explosive revelation. Here is what we know so far.
One of the primary objectives was to gain access to the Google accounts of human rights activists. It is also probable that Yahoo was targeted for the same reason.
The attacks are notable for their complexity and sophistication. The hackers used multiple levels of encryption and took unprecedented precautions to avoid detection. An unknown exploit in Internet Explorer was utilised by the hackers to gain control of target systems. The exploit affects all versions of Internet Explorer since IE 6 and can be exploited on Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, Server 2008, Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2. You can see the exploit in action over here. Microsoft has published a security advisory and is working on a patch. In the meantime, it is recommended that you do not use Internet Explorer.
Internet Explorer was not the only vector used by the hackers. Vulnerabilities in Adobe’s Reader and Acrobat were also among the weaknesses utilised by Operation Aurora.
The sophistication of the attack has led some researchers to conclude that the Chinese Government was behind the attacks. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spokesman has stated that the US Government will formally ask China for an explanation. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already informally asked for an explanation.
We will be hearing a lot more about Operation Aurora in the days to come. One thing which is certain is that the issue won’t die quietly.