“Patriotic hackers” backed by Chinese authorities conducted extensive computer hacking on U.S. government agencies and companies, including computer networks of Google Inc., according to a report published by the New York Times.
An examination of 250,000 diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks.org by the U.S. newspaper showed that high-level Chinese civilian and military officials assisted successful hacking attacks aimed at retrieving a wide range of U.S. government and military information.
At least one previously unreported attack conducted by Chinese hackers linked to the People’s Liberation Army in 2008 yielded more than 50 megabytes of e-mails, user names, and passwords from a U.S. government agency, the Times said.
A January cable reported that a “well-placed” Chinese source told U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing that a series of computer intrusions into Google’s networks in China were conducted by the highest levels of the Chinese government.
The cables also detail the heavy pressure Chinese officials placed on Google to comply with the country’s censorship laws, including lowering the resolution of images of Chinese government facilities on Google Earth and removing material about human rights issues, political dissidents and government leaders.
“From China’s view, a global conflict is already under way in the virtual world of cyberspace,” said Dean Cheng, of the Heritage Foundation, an expert in Chinese political and security affairs.
“The ability to redirect vast amounts of data constitutes a threat not only to national security but also to private companies and individuals, as their information, too, has now been put at risk,” Cheng said last month on the Heritage Foundation’s website.
Google, which operates the world’s largest search engine, conducted repeated negotiations with officials involved with censorship, media licensing and propaganda. Still, Chinese officials ordered state-owned telecommunications companies to stop doing business with Google and redirected searches of politically delicate terms to Baidu, a Chinese competitor.
Company executives said Google would stop censoring Chinese search results in January after it determined that a “highly sophisticated” attack on its servers originated from the country.
Two months later, the company began to shut down its Google.cn website and began routing mainland China users to its Hong Kong site, where officials typically don’t help China censor Web-search results. While critical of the approach, Chinese authorities renewed Google’s license to operate an Internet service in July.
Google didn’t respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment made to its press center.