SAN FRANCISCO — Google has turned to the National Security Agency for technical assistance to learn more about the computer network attackers who breached the company’s cybersecurity defenses last year, a person with direct knowledge of the agreement said Thursday.
The collaboration between Google, the world’s largest search engine company, and the federal agency in charge of global electronic surveillance raises both civil liberties issues and new questions about how much Google knew about the electronic thefts it experienced when it stated last month that it might end its business operations in China, where it said the attacks originated. The agreement was first reported on Wednesday evening by The Washington Post.
By turning to the NSA, which has no statutory authority to investigate domestic criminal acts, instead of the Department of Homeland Security, which does have such authority, Google is clearly seeking to avoid having its search engine, e-mail and other Web services regulated as part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure.”
The U.S. government has become increasingly concerned about the computer risks confronting energy and water distribution systems and financial and communications networks. Systems designated as critical infrastructure are increasingly being held to tighter regulatory standards.
On Jan. 12, Google announced a “new approach to China” on a company Web site, stating that the attacks were “highly sophisticated” and came from China.