Google Is Cracking Down On The Web's Holes

by Chris Tognotti

The world of Internet security just got a big-time corporate ally. Google's "Project Zero" was officially announced Tuesday — it's a new team of elite-level hackers, who will be working to poke, prod, and hopefully correct security deficiencies across the Internet. It was unveiled by Chris Evans, a Google engineer, on the company's Online Security Blog.

The idea for the team springs from a pretty simple concept: The people who're best at exploiting software security flaws and stressing out tech companies are exactly the people those companies should be hiring. That's what happened in the case of George Hotz, who as detailed in Wired, has an already staggering hacking résumé at the age of 24. In 2007, then just 17, he successfully hacked the iPhone to let users unlock their carriers, allowing for the use of off-brand wireless providers which Apple never intended. In 2009, he successfully hacked the Playstation 3, an achievement which netted him a lawsuit from Sony.

Evans, however, had a very different angle on Hotz's skills. After he successfully hacked into the Google Chrome OS in early 2014, he was given a cool $150,000 for exposing Chrome's weakness, and was subsequently offered a full-time job on Project Zero.

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Google's reason for taking this stand? In short, security flaws in major softwares threaten more than just the companies who directly own and produce them. Whether exploited by more common cyber-criminals, or state-sponsored spies, a shaky and insecure Internet makes life harder for the Web's biggest corporations. As InfoWorld detailed, quoting 451 Research analyst Adrian Sanabria:

What's most relevant here is that Project Zero isn't just targeting bugs and vulnerabilities in Google's own software, they're targeting anything that could threaten Internet users, many of which are directly or indirectly Google customers. There's nothing better than a self-serving project that also benefits the common good. Win/win.

This isn't the only intriguing mixture of self-interest and public good that's kicking around the major tech companies these days. Both Google and Facebook, in fact, are believed to be eyeing aerial drones as a means to expand Internet access around the world. Facebook considered purchasing drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace months ago, but ultimately chose a U.K.-based competitor, after which Google snapped up Titan for itself.

Just like Project Zero, the dual interests are very clear — expanding Internet access to countries that sorely need it and otherwise won't have it? That's damn near a humanitarian mission! Increase usage of your products by expanding said Internet access? That's not so bad for the bottom line, either. So long as those incentives line up and so long as Google handles this latest project responsibly, things could start looking up for the security of our online lives.

Image: Getty Images