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Chinese experts: Gmail hacking accusation likely ill-intentioned

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-05 08:03
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BEIJING - Google lacks evidence to support its accusations that Chinese hackers are behind alleged cyber attacks on hundreds of its e-mail accounts, and the timing of such accusations is ill-intentioned, Chinese experts said over the weekend.

"Google's accusation is neither serious nor credible as it has not published any evidence that shows the hackers are from China," said Dai Yiqi, a cyber security expert with Tsinghua University.

Eric Grosse, engineering director of Google's security team, wrote on the company blog Wednesday that unidentified hacker attacks, likely originating from the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, tried to collect user passwords of the Gmail accounts of hundreds of users, including senior US government officials, Chinese "human rights activists" and journalists.

A report released in 2009 by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an organization created by the US Congress, claimed that Jinan is the home of a Chinese military reconnaissance office.

An anonymous cyber security expert believes, despite Google not referring to the Chinese government in the latest attack claim, the company is targeting the Chinese government by listing the victims of the attacks as those whom only the Chinese government is interested in.

"Both their intentions and the timing of the accusation are dubious," Dai said.

Google's accusation followed on the heels of the Pentagon's first formal cyber strategy announcement. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Pentagon concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can count as an act of war and the United States may respond by using traditional military force.

Li Shuisheng, a research fellow with a top military science academy of the People's Liberation Army, believes there are political motives behind Google's accusation.

Google may well have attempted to instigate a new round of the cyber row between China and the United States, Li said.

"If Google did suffer the 'hacker attack from China', it can seek solutions through the relevant Sino-US judicial cooperation mechanism, rather than only 'shouting' without any solid evidence," said an insider who works with Chinese officials in charge of Internet security.

China and the US established a Joint Liaison Group (JLG) on law-enforcement cooperation in 1998 to promote bilateral cooperation in combating crimes, the anonymous insider added.

Wednesday's accusation by Google came more than a year after the company allegedly uncovered a cyber attack that it said it had traced to China.

In January 2010, Google said it had been attacked by hackers supported by the Chinese government, and later announced its withdrawal from the Chinese mainland. The row ended with Google redirecting Chinese mainland users to a site in Hong Kong.

In such cyber attacks, it is easy to locate the IP address of hackers but hard to tell where the hackers actually are, said Dai.

"Hackers usually launch attacks by camouflaging their own IP addresses or controlling computers of others. Therefore, we can hardly tell the location of the hacker unless we have sufficient evidence," he said.

China is one of the leading targets of cyber attacks, according to the China National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CNCERT).

It has the world's largest number of computers infected with bot, a type of malware that allows a cyber attacker to gain control over the affected computer. About 13 percent of the world's computers infected with bot are in China.

Last year, 4.5 million IP addresses in China were hit by "Trojans" planted by nearly 220,000 overseas IP addresses, according to CNCERT. Those from the US ranked first, accounting for 14.66 percent, CNCERT statistics show.

"Without cooperation between governments, absolute security cannot be guaranteed in cyber community," said Li , adding that only cooperation can ensure safe information exchange.


(China Daily 06/05/2011 page2)