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Someone logging onto the Google Trends website at around 9 AM would have seen the phrase "lol n------". Many of the other terms were also unusually broad and not in keeping with the usual sorts of hot topic terms which appear on the page.
A spokeswoman said the company was "investigating reports of an unusual query appearing on Google Trends this morning" but had no further comment.
In the past few months Google, Intel, Symantec and Northrop Grumman -- all companies thought to have been targets of a widespread spying operation -- have added new warnings to their U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings informing investors of the risks of computer attacks.
Google doesn't talk about the specific attack against its systems, but it now warns shareholders that this type of event is a material risk.
"[O]utside parties may attempt to fraudulently induce employees, users, or customers to disclose sensitive information in order to gain access to our data or our users' or customers' data," Google wrote in a section added to its annual financial report in February, a month after it disclosed the hacking incident.
Google warned that it could lose customers following a breach, as users question the effectiveness of its security. "Because the techniques used to obtain unauthorized access, disable or degrade service, or sabotage systems change frequently and often are not recognized until launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures," the company said in the filing.
Google's admission that it had been targeted put a public spotlight on a problem that had been growing for years: targeted attacks, known to security professionals as the advanced persistent threat (APT). These attacks are often successful because they are low-volume, fly under the radar of most security companies and are extremely targeted. In many APT attacks, the victim is sent