There is now confirmation of the collaboration between the Chinese central government and organized crime groups in an attack a year ago on Google mail, which I had pointed to in January based on the technological outline of the criminal activity. (In yesterday’s New York Times: “a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government.”) There are reports of separate collaborations between China and North Korea, a country that by now may be regarded as a failed state.
Countries under great stress cannot be relied on to act in an orderly fashion or in accordance with their self-interest. This fact is a threat to your personal security in matters as minor as e-mail passwords. It is one thing to discover that a criminal inside China has signed in to your e-mail account. It is quite another to realize that the perpetrator was no ordinary criminal, but was working for the Chinese central government. National governments are capable of levels of resourcefulness that an ordinary criminal organization could never generate. If they are starting to pay attention to us on an individual level, it is cause for concern.
This requires new thinking on security issues. Our computer networks are riddled with “back doors” intended to provide access to network administrators and national intelligence organizations. Previously, there was some concern at the actions large corporations such as Microsoft or Sun Microsystems might have taken using these mechanisms. This concern was somewhat misdirected. Any back door accessible to the National Security Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation is also available to countries like China and North Korea, and to the attorney general of Texas, for that matter.
Technology developed in the 1990s allows large corporations to send you, and tens of millions of other customers, marketing messages as if they knew who you were. The same technology also allows any organization that has a criminal bent to spy on tens of millions of people. These organizations can include national governments. It no longer serves us to pretend that this is not going on “yet.” We saw it last winter. It has now been confirmed.