When Google (GOOG) announced in January that it was the victim of a cyber-attack, the company didn't reveal the extent of the damage. Now it appears that Google's password system, which protects email accounts and business applications, was compromised in the attack, according to reports in The New York Times and elsewhere.
"The program, code named Gaia for the Greek goddess of the earth, was attacked in a lightning raid taking less than two days last December," the Times reports. The theft was triggered by "an instant message sent to a Google employee in China who was using Microsoft's Messenger program." The paper added that Gmail passwords do not appear to have been stolen and that Google is working to make certain such an attack does not happen again.
While the exact source of the cyber attack remains unknown, the incident fueled tensions between China and the search giant, which last month moved its Chinese search operations from the Mainland to Hong Kong.
Google has become a victim of its own success. The ubiquity of its search product and the services it has built, including Gmail and the desktop software it sells to businesses, makes it vulnerable to many "points of attack." The problem is similar to that faced by Microsoft (MSFT) with Windows, which runs on over 80% of the world's personal computers. Computer hackers have targeted Windows XP and Vista. The world's largest software company has tried to improve the security of the new Windows 7, but the success of these efforts has not been perfect. Even Apple's (AAPL) OS X has succumbed to security breaches.
Google has partnered with the National Security Agency to help fend off future cyber attacks. But computer hackers today are so sophisticated, they can seemingly breach almost any security, no matter how complex and well engineered. Unfortunately, the problem only seems to be getting worse.