Microsoft's Ballmer Says China Cyber-attacks Didn't Change Web Security

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggests that the latest round of cyber-attacks reportedly originating from China have not fundamentally changed the security environment on the Internet, even as Google threatens to shut down its Chinese operations in the wake of the assault. In addition to targeting the Gmail accounts of several Chinese human rights activists, the hackers apparently attempted to penetrate the IT infrastructure of a number of U.S. companies.

Microsoft is emphasizing that none of its e-mail systems were targeted in the recent high-profile cyber-attacks that have Google threatening to pull its business out of mainland China.

"We have no indication that any of our mail properties have been compromised," a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK on Jan. 14.

In addition, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that such cyber-attacks, which apparently targeted the Gmail accounts of several Chinese human rights activists in addition to the IT infrastructure of a number of U.S. companies, are a matter of course on the modern Web.

"Every large institution is being hacked," Ballmer told the Financial Times, in a quote later confirmed to eWEEK by the company. "I don't think it's a fundamental change in the security environment on the Internet." Microsoft reportedly has no plans to pull its operations out of China.

Google said at least 20 other companies were the targets of cyber-attacks originating from within China. In the wake of the assault, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly said, "We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation."

Another U.S. government official, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, also raised the issue of security for companies operating in conjunction with China.

"The recent cyber-intrusion that Google attributes to China is troubling to the U.S. government and American companies doing business in China," Locke said in a statement. "This incident should be equally troubling to the Chinese government. The administration encourages the government of China to work with Google and other U.S. companies to ensure a climate for secure commercial operations in the Chinese market."

Despite the publicity surrounding the attacks and Google's possible withdrawal from China, Google has continued to assert that the cloud-computing model is fundamentally sound.

"This was not an assault on cloud computing," Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in a post on the company's official blog Jan. 12. "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."

Drummond added: "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."