Feds investigate alleged attacks on Gmail accounts

The U.S. government is looking into reports that hackers tried to access Gmail accounts of federal officials, journalists, and political activists.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

The U.S. government is investigating reports from Google that hackers attempted to break into the Gmail accounts of senior government officials but at this point doesn't believe any accounts were actually breached.

"Speaking on behalf of the U.S. government, we're looking into these reports and seeking to gather the facts," Caitlin Hayden, deputy spokesperson for the National Security Council, told CNET today. "We have no reason to believe that any official U.S. government e-mail accounts were accessed."

The FBI is taking the lead on the investigation, according to Hayden, "as part of an interagency mechanism that comes together to focus on these types of incidents when they occur."

An FBI representative confirmed the investigation to CNET today. "We are aware of Google's announcement regarding attempts to obtain passwords and gain access to the accounts. We are working with Google and other [U.S. government] agencies to review this matter further to identify the origin of this campaign and to see what information may have been compromised," the FBI said in an e-mail.

Google revealed yesterday that it had "detected and disrupted" a plan to break into hundreds of Gmail accounts through a series of phishing attacks. The targets of the attacks included top government officials from the U.S. and several Asian countries, along with journalists, political activists, and military personnel. The attackers apparently tried to use stolen passwords to access and change certain settings on the accounts.

In a familiar scenario, Google has implicated China as the source of the incident, saying that the attacks seemed to originate from Jinan, China. But the search giant didn't go so far as to blame the Chinese government directly. China has denied any involvement in the attacks, according to BBC News, saying that "blaming these misdeeds on China is unacceptable."

Correction, 10:56 a.m.: This story initially misidentified the organization Caitlin Hayden represents. She works for the National Security Council.