Google's threat to exit China in the wake of security attacks on Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents and human rights activists has roiled the high-tech sector, recalling arguments against the cloud computing model Google famously employs to provide Web services.
Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in a blog post Jan. 12 that Google will cease censoring results on Google.cn, and will discuss with the Chinese government whether or not the company can continue to offer its search engine in China.
Drummond said the attack on Google's corporate infrastructure resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google, though he declined to specify what the hackers stole.
However, he also said the accounts of dozens of Gmail users in the U.S., Europe and China who are advocates of human rights in China were routinely accessed by third parties. Drummond stressed that these accounts were compromised through phishing scams or malware, not through holes in Google's computing infrastructure. This is a key point.
Google's hosts data from search, Gmail and other collaboration programs that comprise Google Apps for millions of consumers on thousands of servers in data centers all over the world as part of a cloud computing model. When a Google user triggers a request from his or her computer, it speeds to these servers, looking for a response.
While Drummond took pains to explain that at least 20 other companies were similarly attacked in China, David Girouard, president of Google's Enterprise group, also sought to reassure the 2 million businesses that use Google Apps that the attacks were not directed at the cloud computing model. He wrote:
""This was not an assault on cloud computing. It was an attack on the technology infrastructure of major corporations in sectors as diverse as finance, technology, media, and chemical. The route the attackers used was malicious software used to infect personal computers.Any computer connected to the Internet can fall victim to such attacks. While some intellectual property on our corporate network was compromised, we believe our customer cloud-based data remains secure.""
Girouard said Google believes Google Apps and related customer data -- hundreds of thousands of Google Apps users pay the company $50 per user, per year for Apps -- were not not affected by the hacks. Moreover, Girouard took the opportunity to tout Google Apps' security. He added:
""While any company can be subject to such an attack, those who use our cloud services benefit from our data security capabilities. At Google, we invest massive amounts of time and money in security. Nothing is more important to us.Our response to this attack shows that we are dedicated to protecting the businesses and users who have entrusted us with their sensitive email and document information. We are telling you this because we are committed to transparency, accountability, and maintaining your trust.""