Google is delving into encrypting Web searches globally, beginning in China, a country known not only for its censorship of the Internet but the tracking of what its citizens are viewing online.
The search engine firm told The Washington Post the move is the beginning of a worldwide effort to offer its users more privacy while impeding government and law enforcement surveillance and foiling the efforts of hackers. Once implemented, the new measures will make it much more difficult for spies of any kind to view e-mails, search queries and video chats.
China was a logical place for Google to start its encryption efforts. The country’s censorship system, known as China’s Great Firewall, targets politically-sensitive content such as ‘Dalai Lama’ or ‘Tiananmen Square.’ With Google’s encryption in place, such searches will now appear as rows of indecipherable numbers and letters.
It is likely that Google encryption will next make its way to Vietnam and Saudia Arabia, which are also famous for their censorship of Internet searches. Such countries, of course, will have the option of blocking Google search rather than lose control of what their people are searching for.
“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks,” a Google spokeswoman said in an e-mail to the Post, referring to the revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world,” spokeswoman Niki Christoff said. “This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards.”
Google offered encrypted search as an option for some users in 2010 and made it the default setting for all users in the U.S. in 2012. The company also enabled HTTPS-only — a communications protocol for secure communication over a computer network — by default for all Gmail users three years ago.
But concerns over government surveillance, which reached an all-time high last year as documents made public by Snowden shone a light on the spying practices of the NSA, convinced Google to also extend its encryption to services other than search and Gmail.
It was reported last October that the NSA was able to furtively access the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers across the globe. The NSA’s penetration of the networks means the agency was able to see “who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video,” according to a Washington Post report.
The surveillance program, codenamed, MUSCULAR, was operated in co-operation with GCHQ, the British Intelligence agency.
Google, since then, has encrypted traffic between its data centers. A move followed by Yahoo and Microsoft.
Google has also beefed up security for its Cloud Storage as a free service to its users. Any new files added to Google’s cloud storage service are now automatically encrypted before being written to disk. Older files stored in Google’s cloud are gradually being encrypted and re-written to disk and users also have the option of encrypting their own data before writing it to cloud storage.
Google described the additional security as an extra step in its “commitment to evolve the security capabilities of our platform.”