New York, January 13, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern today after Google said Tuesday it had uncovered evidence of cyber attackers from China targeting its own and other companies’ infrastructures, as well as individual Gmail accounts. CPJ welcomed Google’s statement that it was no longer willing to censor its Chinese search engine, Google.cn, in light of the discovery.
"We are concerned that threats to e-mail security undermine
the safety of journalists working in China, their assistants, and their
local sources,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney, who is CPJ’s
representative to the board of the Global
Network Initiative. “Google’s refusal to continue censoring content is a
welcome example of the positive role international companies can play in
demanding that China
improve access to information.”
In a statement
Tuesday by Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, Google said it detected the
“highly sophisticated” attacks in December 2009 and that the company will
notify at least 20 other Internet, technology, and media companies that they
had been similarly targeted. Drummond said that while the two Gmail security
breaches to Google’s own servers were minor, its research showed China-based
hackers had “routinely accessed” individual Gmail accounts belonging to human
rights advocates in China, Europe, and the United States.
“The fact that media companies may have been targeted underscores
the vulnerabilities of journalists working in China,” Mahoney said.
uses vague state secret charges to imprison Chinese citizens who communicate
online about sensitive issues like the government’s human rights record, CPJ research shows. At least one journalist, Shi
Tao, was imprisoned in 2005 after Yahoo provided information to Chinese
authorities about the personal e-mail account he used to send an internal
propaganda department memo overseas.
Hackers have targeted journalists and their assistants
working in China
in the past, according to CPJ
research. CPJ and other rights organizations were also aware of an increase
in cyber attacks, some traced to China, in the run-up to the 2008
Beijing Olympics. The origins of the attacks are not clear.
Drummond said Google planned to discuss with Beijing “the basis on
which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all.
We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn.” Google launched Google.cn
in January 2006, agreeing
to content restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities but disclosing to users
if search results had been filtered. Uncensored Chinese-language searches
remained possible in China
on Google.com. Google also pledged to
maintain e-mail and blogging services overseas to protect personal data.
State news agency Xinhua said China was seeking more information
from Google. Other coverage in China’s
official press censored the wording of Google’s statement, omitting mentions of
“free speech” and “surveillance,” according to The
New York Times.
censorship and surveillance of the Internet steadily worsened
in 2009, under the guise of limiting pornography or maintaining social
stability. Several Google
services, including video-sharing Web site YouTube, were
frequently blocked to users in China
during the year.