More than 100 companies targeted by Google hackers

Two months after hack, security firm says another 68 command-and-control servers have been identified

The hackers who broke into Google two months ago have gone after more than 100 companies, according to an estimate by security vendor Isec Partners.

Researchers have been closing in on the unidentified criminals responsible for the attack over the past month. In the process, they have uncovered another 68 so-called command-and-control servers, used to control the hacked machines.

Investigators had already identified 34 hacked companies after examining the single command-and-control server used in the Google attack, and the discovery of another 68 servers could mean that many more companies were compromised than previously thought. "It's easily over 100 companies," said Alex Stamos a partner with Isec Partners.

In the weeks since Google went public with details of the hack, informal discussion lists have sprung up, including security experts and staffers from companies that have been compromised. In those discussions, "that list of control machines keeps getting longer and longer," Stamos said.

The code used in the attacks, known in security circles as Aurora, has been in use for at least 18 months, Stamos said. But the security industry was unaware of Aurora until Google discovered the intrusion last December. That allowed hackers to get onto corporate networks undetected.

Other technology companies, including Intel, Adobe, and Symantec, have also been hit by the attack, which investigators have traced back to China.

To break into victim companies, the hackers sent carefully targeted e-mail or instant messages to victims, hoping to trick them into visiting Web pages or opening malicious documents that would then attack their computers.

The worst part of the attack is what happens once the initial victim has been compromised. The hackers then use a variety of techniques to acquire additional usernames and passwords and fan out across the targeted company's network, downloading sensitive data, which is then moved offshore.

This type of targeted attack is not new, but it is dangerous because it is so good at circumventing traditional security measures, said Rob Lee, a computer forensics instructor with the SANS Institute. "We've been dealing with [these attacks] for five years," he said. "They're basically going around all the security appliances via email."

Not all of these attacks have been linked to Aurora, but Lee said that "there have been hundreds of companies infiltrated."

Stamos agreed that traditional security products such as antivirus and intrusion detection systems are not enough to stop the attack. "The interesting thing to me about these attackers is they're very patient," he said. "They'll spend a lot of time writing custom malware to get around people's antivirus."

"They'll use a social network to learn about one person in the company, and then will send emails or chats messages as that person's friend," he added.

ISec Partners has published technical recommendations for companies to follow in order to mitigate the Aurora risk.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hackersGooglesecurity

More about Adobe SystemsGoogleIntelIsecMcAfee AustraliaSANS InstituteSECSymantec

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Robert McMillan

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts