COMMENTARY

Google's showdown with China underscores the need to reform cybersecurity

The new year has barely begun and already we’ve witnessed what will likely be one of the defining moments of 2010: The announcement by Google that it and more than 30 other companies had their information networks compromised by Chinese agents and that the search giant was considering pulling out of the world’s largest Internet market.

What began as a modest but sobering blog post Jan. 12 by Google’s senior corporate development vice president and chief legal officer, David Drummund, quickly became the shot heard 'round the world — except of course within China, where censorship rules, which have hamstrung Google’s efforts there, muted the news.

“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered — combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web — have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China,” Drummond wrote on Google’s corporate blog.

That Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on the news almost immediately was but one indication of how quickly free speech, human rights and fair-trade advocates, among others, jumped on the media bandwagon. The resulting uproar over hackers penetrating the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists and Google’s rare public rebuke of Chinese authorities over its censorship rules are sure to create new political tensions between the United States and China.

Clearly, Google’s announcement says as much about the frustrations of doing business in China as it does about sticking to principles that define the Internet age.

But more significantly, it also speaks volumes about the battles being waged continuously to keep information networks secure. The ability of hackers to navigate past network defenses and siphon source code from one of the world’s most resourceful technology players is a stark reminder — as if we needed one — of the need for faster and more comprehensive national cybersecurity reforms.

It also highlights China’s increasing prowess in cyber space, as a number of reports, including a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report and related analysis make clear.

Whether Google’s announcement sparks a Sputnik-like response to cyber threats remains to be seen. Clearly, cybersecurity will remain big news in 2010. But so will a number of other technology forces that, though less visible, are expected to reshape the information technology playing field in the year ahead.

GCN identifies 10 such technologies in this issue. Each is on the cusp of transforming how information is delivered and processed; collectively, they point to a quantum leap in data processing speeds — and a future almost at hand where wireless will rival fiber optics.

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