“Government-backed attackers” prompted Google to send over 12,000 warnings to its users across 149 countries – including up to 500 in India – between July and September, the company said on Tuesday. Such attackers work with goals such as collecting intelligence, targeting dissidents and activists, and “destructive” cyber attacks, Google said.
In a blog post, the technology company said its Threat Analysis Group tracks more than 270 targeted or government-backed groups from over 50 countries.
The analysis did not specify whether the users were being targeted by their own governments or others. India was placed in the category that had between 100 and 500 such warnings, while the United States had the most warnings – more than 1,000 – according to a heat map published by Google.
Vietnam, Pakistan and South Korea were in the category of countries with between 500 and 1,000 such warnings being sent to users from July to September. The total number – over 12,000 – was consistent with the figures from the same period in the last two years, Google said.
The suspect groups that Google tracks also have goals such as stealing intellectual property or “spreading coordinated disinformation”, according to Shane Huntley of the Threat Analysis Group. “We use the intelligence we gather to protect Google infrastructure as well as users targeted with malware or phishing,” Huntley said.
Over 90% of the users who Google sent warnings to were targeted via “credential phishing emails”, which are usually attempts to get the target’s password or other account credentials to hijack their account, the blog post said. Google also urged high-risk users such as journalists, human rights activists, and political campaigns to enrol in an advanced protection scheme.
Last month, reports had revealed that a security breach on WhatsApp through a spyware had targeted several Indian journalists, lawyers and activists in a two-week period in May. The spyware used for the purpose was Pegasus, which is sold only to government agencies, according to its Israeli owner NSO Group.
When the government was asked in Parliament if it tapped WhatsApp calls with Pegasus spyware, the Ministry of Home Affairs did not provide a direct answer, but listed the laws that empower it to intercept information based on certain conditions. Earlier, the government had denied any dealings with NSO Group.