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Google chief 'paranoid' on security after China attack

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Google's chief exec said the search engine giant is paranoid about further security attacks in the wake of a high-profile assault it blames on hackers in China late last year.

Answering questions following an presentation before 400 chief information officers at the Atmosphere 2010 cloud technology conference on Monday, Eric Schmidt said Google took the unusual step of going public about targeted attacks against the firm involving attempts to steal intellectual property as a warning to others.

The attacks, which also targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents, relied on exploits against a then unpatched flaw in IE 6 and affected at least 30 other blue-chip firms as well as Google.

"When we were attacked we faced a moral question," Schmidt said according to a Techcrunch report. "Most companies would be embarrassed… we decided we had to tell people as a warning."

The search engine giant tightened up security defences and accelerated plans to move workers over to Chrome OS netbooks in the wake of the attack. Hackers are reckoned to have targeted a Google system involved in processing wiretapping requests from law enforcement. This system relied on Microsoft's antiquated IE 6 browser, leaving Google open to attack.

Schmidt said the attack relied on breaking into a single system based on an outdated browser. This compromised system was used as a stepping stone to penetrate other systems and create further disruption.

Google was now "paranoid" about security in the wake of the incident, Schmidt told conference delegates, Cnet reports.

Schmidt advised delegates to run only the latest version of web browsers and operating system software, before going on to claim that its web services and platform technology will be more secure than alternatives. "We ultimately believe the web platforms we’re building over the last year will be inherently more secure (Chrome, Chrome OS)," Schmidt said.

Techcrunch has a transcript of Schmidt's Q&A session at Atmosphere 2010 in a story here. ®

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