Clinton queries China about Google's cyberattack allegations

Google said it's no longer willing to censor Google.cn

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is looking for an explanation from the Chinese government regarding Google’s accusation that a cyberattack against the company’s infrastructure originated in China, with a primary goal of accessing Chinese human rights activists' Gmail accounts.

“We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,” Clinton said in a brief statement on Jan. 12. “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.”

Google said in a post on the company’s blog on Jan. 12 that in mid-December it detected “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.” David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president for corporate development and chief legal officer, wrote in the post that the company has evidence to suggest that a “primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.”

“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered—combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the Web—have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China,” Drummond said.

Google added that it was no longer willing to go along with the Chinese government and censor Google.cn, a version of Google for China.

“Over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all,” Drummond wrote. “We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”

Meanwhile, Xinhua, China’s official news agency, ran an article today that paraphrased an official with China's State Council Information Office as saying Chinese Internet authorities were seeking more data on Google’s statement.

Drummond said Google discovered that “at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses—including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors-—have been similarly targeted.”

Drummond added that “as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.”

Clinton said she would be giving a speech next week “on the centrality of Internet freedom in the 21st century” and said “we will have further comment on this matter as the facts become clear.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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