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June 3, 2011 8:48 pm

Google hacking claim fuels official concern

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A Google allegation of a concerted internet intrusion mounted from inside China, apparently with political motivations, once again stirred concerns at the highest levels in Washington this week.

The internet search giant said it had detected a surveillance campaign mounted against “hundreds” of Gmail accounts used by senior US and Asian officials, journalists and Chinese political activists – but not before the damage had been done. How long the surveillance had been going on before it was discovered was one of many details not disclosed.

The claim, and its political reverberations, carried a distinct echo of Google’s disclosure of a more serious security breach at the start of last year. At that time hackers who were also believed to be operating from inside China succeeded in penetrating the company’s own systems, leading it to announce that it would end its compliance with Chinese censorship rules.

This time, Google itself, whose systems remained untouched, was spared some embarrassment, though the White House was left scrambling to downplay the implied criticism of its own security.

Google said it believed the surveillance had been made possible because of successful “phishing” attacks against the Gmail users, tricking them into disclosing their passwords so that their accounts could secretly be followed from inside China. Despite this apparent evidence of security flaws, the White House said that there was no evidence that any official government e-mail accounts had been hacked into.

The claim brought an immediate response from Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, who called the Google allegations “very serious”, and said the US was “very concerned” by the news. She had expressed similar displeasure early last year, during Google’s last showdown with China over a hacking allegation.

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