A Google security expert has warned that the attacks against its systems in January, which kicked off worldwide discussions on cyber freedom and government control of communications, represent a far wider "general threat" to the internet.
Neel Mehta, a researcher with Google's security team, said in a blog post that, while malware is the root of the problem, it becomes truly destructive when used to "suppress opinions of dissent".
To show that it is not just about Google, Mehta has gathered information about other attacks which, despite being less sophisticated, still had a widely felt impact.
The attacks in question were targeted against Vietnamese citizens, and used malware in an attempt to infect the computers of a "potential" tens of thousands of users across the world.
The route for infection was a Vietnamese language keyboard driver. Mehta said that, although the malware itself was not particularly harmful, it had been used for "damaging purposes".
The infections were used to spy on users in the same way as the hacks on Google, which have been traced back to China, while also forming part of a denial-of-service (DoS) attack.
"These infected machines have been used to spy on their owners as well as participate in distributed DoS attacks against blogs containing messages of political dissent," said Mehta.
"Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an important and emotionally charged issue in the country."
Security firm McAfee was responsible for tracking the infection to its root, and the firm's chief technology officer, George Kurtz, has been quick to add to the discussion.
"This incident underscores that not every attack is motivated by data theft or money," he said in a blog post. "This is likely the latest example of 'hacktivism' and politically motivated cyber attacks, which are on the rise."
Kurtz said that an investigation of the attacks had led McAfee to believe that the perpetrators were associated with the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
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