Why Google's Windows ban doesn't make sense

Analysis: Was Windows really the weak link in the Chinese hackers' attack on Google?

Google's move to ban Windows for internal use was ostensibly for security reasons. But that looks more like a convenient excuse than anything else, because there are plenty of reasons the ban doesn't make sense.

Google's ban of Windows implies that the China attack was a garden-variety Trojan or piece of malware that infected individual PCs. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The attack on Google was extremely sophisticated and highly targeted. Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee, told Wired Magazine, "we have never ever, outside of the defense industry, seen commercial industrial companies come under that level of sophisticated attack. It's totally changing the threat model."

Almost a dozen pieces of malware and multiple levels of encryption were used in the attack. Many people believe the Chinese government was involved, which means a substantial amount of time and work went into it.

What does this mean? Even if Windows wasn't being used, Google still would have been targeted. Given the resources behind the attack, there's a reasonable chance it would have succeeded. So banning Windows won't keep Google safe.

Also, Macs are vulnerable as well. Mac fans will tell you time and time again Macs are not vulnerable to security risks. It simply isn't true. Just yesterday, for example, security firm Intego reported that it uncovered spyware on freely distributed Mac applications. There are more Windows attacks because there are more Windows machines. Google switching users from Windows to Macs won't keep them safe from targeted attacks like the Chinese one.

Plenty of analysts have said the ban won't make Google any safer. John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner who specializes in security issues told Computerworld "If [hackers] know that Google uses Macs, then they'll just target the company with Mac malware. And Mac malware exists." Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with the Altimeter Group, added, "the idea that security is behind this is a little bogus. Windows seems pretty good for Fortune 500 companies."

So why did Google ban Windows? One potential reason is to promote the use of its upcoming Chrome OS. And certainly, Google doesn't want to miss a chance to criticize Windows in the hopes of moving people away from Microsoft Office and onto Google Docs.

It's not clear, though, that Google is any safer after banning Windows than before.

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Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)
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