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Google, China, and the coming threat from cyberspace

Cyberspace attacks are set to increase. Here’s why – and here’s what we can do to stop them.

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The recent cyberespionage attacks on Google and that company’s subsequent announcement that it would reconsider its search engine services in China gripped the world’s focus and set off a debate about China’s aggressive cybersecurity strategy. 

The apparent scope of the attacks – more than 30 companies affected, Gmail accounts compromised, human rights groups targeted – took many by surprise. Some observers believe the attacks were highly sophisticated in nature, employing never-before-seen techniques. Many reports concluded that the Chinese government undertook the attacks. 

As principal investigators in the Information Warfare Monitor, a project formed in 2002 to investigate and analyze the exercise of power in cyberspace, we have seen many of these types of attacks first hand in our research, and have followed closely those examined by other researchers. 

From our vantage point, the Google cyberattacks are unusual not in apparent scope or sophistication – as some commentators believe – but rather in terms of the high-profile nature of the victim and the victim’s very public reaction. Indeed, we believe targeted cyber attacks such as these will grow in frequency as cyberspace becomes more heavily contested. 

Defense against cyberattacks

The question is what to do about them.

Solutions won’t be easy. Nor will they be solved by technical means alone. They will require widespread and comprehensive public policy changes, greater awareness of network security practices, and above all else a recognition by governments worldwide that an arms race in cyberspace serves no country’s national strategic interest. 


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