The news here isn’t that Chinese hackers engage in these activities or that their attempts are technically sophisticated — we knew that already — it’s that the U.S. government inadvertently aided the hackers.
In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.
Google’s system isn’t unique. Democratic governments around the world — in Sweden, Canada and the UK, for example — are rushing to pass laws giving their police new powers of Internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell.
This problem isn’t going away. Every year brings more Internet censorship and control, not just in countries like China and Iran but in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and other free countries, egged on by both law enforcement trying to catch terrorists, child pornographers and other criminals and by media companies trying to stop file sharers.
The problem is that such control makes us all less safe. Whether the eavesdroppers are the good guys or the bad guys, these systems put us all at greater risk. Communications systems that have no inherent eavesdropping capabilities are more secure than systems with those capabilities built in. And it’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state.
Through much of the past year, the Defense Department remained leery of approving social networking applications such as Facebook and MySpace for U.S. military personnel — for understandable reasons. The security issues seemed to outweigh any and all arguments for open dialogue and collaboration among officers and troops.
Now we learn that the Army has been experimenting since October with its own secure version of Facebook — dubbed milBook — and the Pentagon brass appears to be satisfied with the early results.
The military has launched a social networking tool called milBook to connect the Defense Department community behind the safety of DOD firewalls. Part of a larger milSuite that also includes a wiki and a blog, milBook is designed to foster open discussions in an internal environment for the classified crowd.
Government and industry have been working to configure a secured version of immensely popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. One of the biggest challenges has been to find a way to facilitate the open communications and transparency of social networking while still protecting networks necessary for military and government functions.
The milBook application joins an enclave of other federal social networking platforms modeled on popular mainstream sites, including the Navy Office of General Counsel’s internal Facebook or the Defense Intelligence Agency’s A-Space, also inspired by Facebook.
As part of the milBook program, several military and government programs have implemented professionally-based and social Web presences for their internal communities, using popular or familiar sites in the public domain as a model, Filler said.
MilTech Solutions considers itself to be an incubation program for the development of Web 2.0 collaboration tools to be leveraged by the greater DOD.