- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Obama administration is looking into whether China’s government was behind a series of cyberattacks against the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

The Internet giant Google identified the recent computer intrusions as an attack on its networks and the company is threatening to pull its operations out of China as a result.

“We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.”

Both the administration and Google suggested that such a well-coordinated and sophisticated attack could not have taken place without the government’s knowledge.

Neither the administration nor Google, however, has directly accused Beijing of being behind the recent cyberattacks, that also targeted 20 other companies in Silicon Valley.

A recent report by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated that China has developed an active cyberespionage program and is targeting U.S. computer networks to obtain sensitive data.

The White House also expressed concern about the recent hacking incidents, saying that President Obama supports Internet freedom in China.

Google Vice President David Drummond, the chief legal officer, said in a statement that in mid-December the company detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure “originating from China.”

The attack resulted in the loss of intellectual property from Google, but also revealed targeting of dissident Gmail accounts.

“We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists,” he said. “Based on our investigation to date, we believe their attack did not achieve that objective.”

Google said it will no longer abide by the censorship imposed by Beijing on its Chinese site, Google.cn, which it started in 2006. Reports from China indicated that previously blocked material can now be viewed, including content and images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

“These [cyber] 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,” Mr. Drummond, said in a statement posted on the company’s blog.

Even though only about 5 percent of Google’s revenue comes from its China business — estimated at between $300 million and $600 million — the loss of potential advertising sales in that vast market could be an issue among its investors.

Internet freedom and the communist regime’s restrictions on U.S. companies have become a thorny matter in Washington’s relations with Beijing. Last year, the Obama administration strongly protested China’s plans to install what amounted to spying software on every computer sold in China.

“The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The Chinese authorities have been largely silent on Google’s accusations, though they said they were “seeking more information on Google’s statement,” Xinhua News Agency reported, citing an unnamed official from China’s State Council Information Office, the government arm of the country’s propaganda system.

Yahoo Inc. said Wednesday it is “aligned” with Google’s reaction to the hacking. Yahoo closed its offices in China in 2005 when it sold its business there to the Alibaba Group. As part of that deal, Yahoo retains a 39 percent stake in Alibaba that represents one of its most valuable assets.

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to say whether its solidarity with Google would cause the company to sell its Alibaba holdings, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, China said this week that its safety agency will look into findings that dangerous levels of cadmium are being used in exports of children’s jewelry, following growing concern in the United States about the products.

On Monday, retail giant Wal-Mart pulled products cited in an AP report from its stores in the United States.

Lab tests conducted for the AP on 103 pieces of low-priced children’s jewelry on sale in the U.S. found 12 items with high levels of cadmium, which can hinder brain development in young children, according to recent research, and is known to cause cancer.

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