Wed, 13 Jan 2010 14:47 UTC
Google has thrown down the gauntlet to China by saying it is no longer willing to censor search results on its Chinese service.
The world's leading search engine said the decision followed a cyber-attack that it believes was aimed at gathering information on Chinese human rights activists. It also cited a clampdown on the internet in China over the past year. Its statement raised the prospect of closing Google.cn and potentially its offices in China.
The Chinese government issued its first, cautious response several hours after the announcement, saying it was "seeking more information". In a statement published via the state news agency Xinhua, an unnamed official from China's state council information office ‑ the cabinet spokesman's office ‑ added: "It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows."
The two sides spoke today. Google confirmed: "We have talked to the Chinese authorities and we will be talking to them more in the coming days."
Google acknowledged that its decision to stop self-censoring "may well mean" the closure of Google.cn and its offices in China. That is an understatement, given that to launch Google.cn it had to agree to censor sensitive material, such as details of human rights groups and references to the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The US government upped the stakes when it stepped into the row, with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, urging the Chinese to respond to Google's hacking claims.
Google was in contact with the US state department ahead of its announcement. Department spokesman PJ Crowley said: "Every nation has an obligation, regardless of the origin of malicious cyber-activities, to keep its part of the network secure. That includes China. Every nation should criminalise malicious activities on computer networks."
In a post on the official Google Blog, the company outlined a "highly sophisticated and targeted" attack in December which it believes affected at least 20 other companies: "These 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.
"We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all."
Human Rights Watch praised the decision and urged other firms to follow suit in challenging censorship. "A transnational attack on privacy is chilling, and Google's response sets a great example," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the group's corporations and human rights programme.
In China, some websites carried accounts of Google's decision, although they did not mention the cyber-attacks. News portals were reportedly told to downgrade the issue, although the Guardian saw articles on major sites including Sina.com. But while many seemed to welcome the firm's decision ‑ some left flowers at the entrance to its Beijing headquarters ‑ others attacked it.
One poster, Weiwoguyan, wrote: "Since you are in China you need to obey Chinese law ... Do not use it to threaten China."
A prominent liberal blogger, Ran Yunfei, wrote on his blog: "Google leaving China is definitely not good news." Comparing the decision to dissidents who choose to emigrate, he added: "Those are obedient citizens and [their choice] is satisfactory to the authorities."
Google claimed the cyber-attack originated from China and that its intellectual property was stolen, but that evidence suggested a primary goal was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
Its inquiry had shown that, separately, the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights advocates in China who are based in the US, Europe and China appeared to have been routinely accessed by third parties.
The company added that it was sharing the information not just because of the security and human rights implications "but because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech".
Acknowledging the potential consequences, it stressed: "This move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China."
The message, headlined "A New Approach to China" and signed by David Drummond, senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer, said the company launched Google.cn in 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China "outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results". At the time Google promised to monitor conditions in China and reconsider its approach if necessary.
But Evgeny Morozov, an expert on the political effects of the internet and a Yahoo fellow at Georgetown University, questioned why Google had made such a decision after four years.
"They knew pretty well what they were getting into. Now it seems they are playing the innocence card ... It's like they thought they were dealing with the government of Switzerland and suddenly realised it was China," he said.
Morozov said it was hard to see the logical connection between the security of human rights activists and Google's self-censorship, particularly given that the firm had chosen not to comment on whom it believed to be responsible for the hacking.
In a CNBC interview, Drummond said: "I want to be very careful and very clear. We are not saying one way or the other whether the attacks are state sponsored or done with any approval of the state."
Google has only a third of the search-engine market in China, which is dominated by the Chinese giant Baidu. Although its revenues have continued to rise, many analysts believed it was finding business hard going, particularly as it came under increased pressure from the government.
"There are two schools of thought on this. One says that this is a mere smokescreen of sanctimony meant to hide a retreat from a market Google was unable to conquer for business reasons ... The other is that this is a true act of moral bravery," said Kaiser Kuo, a Beijing-based expert on the internet.
In June, Google suffered intensive disruption to search functions and Gmail for over an hour, after authorities told it to scale back search functions.
Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's journalism and media studies centre, said her research showed Google had censored less than Baidu. Google's decision "certainly sets an example in terms of a company trying to do what's best for the user and not just whatever increases the profit margins", she added.
Comment: The idea that Google has donned the role of knights in shining armour and suddenly developed concern for "human rights" is risible given its unctious predatory market behaviour this past decade. Many governments, especially the US government, routinely monitor ALL emails with the help of its obedient assistants at Google. So what is really going on here?
It's important to realise that we're not looking at "human rights activists" in this case, but separatist groups like the Uighur World Movement, essentially a US intelligence operation to destabilise China (as we witnessed in the summer of 2009). With its headquarters in Germany and the US, it's little wonder that the Chinese government is keeping tabs on this trojan horse.
The last time a 'massive hack' was attributed to an East Asian country, it soon emerged that the Pentagon's new cyber-warfare unit had been testing its capabilities: the third party false-flag cyber-attack that blamed North Korea was traced to servers in the UK and was likely a trial run for attacks like yesterday's on China's largest search engine.
From our July installment of Connecting the Dots:
By Way of Deception, Thou Shalt Do CyberWarAnd yesterday's cyber-attack looks like another such operation. The first red flag to note is that the hacks into the Gmail accounts of the "human rights activists" took place in December. Is it just an amazing coincidence that the day before Google Inc. should declare "cyberwar" on behalf of so-called "human rights activists" (but really on behalf of its Pentagon masters), China's Google equivalent - Baidu - is knocked off line? Not only that, but the attack is made to look like it came from Iran!
Set against a background of media hystrionics about cybercrime and claims of multimillion-fold increases in 'cyberattacks' against American government and corporate websites, Team Obama announced the introduction of a new CyberSecurity Office within the White House, complete with Cyber Czar to coordinate policy. With its emphasis on 'defensive' strategy to counter the threat posed by those cybercriminals 'out there', we naturally wonder if the timing relates to the announcement earlier this summer of the Pentagon's new CyberCommand (CYBERCOM) unit, whose definition of the concept of 'defensive strategy' is somewhat more plastic. If past activities are anything to go by, we can expect the Pentagon to preemptively launch cyberwarfare against cyberterrorists by engaging in . . . cyberterrorism.
Never wanting to feel left out of imperial projects for total world domination, the UK followed up with an announcement of its own: "this [cyber security] work was previously handled by an office related to the security services, and it will now be widened out." In other words; we are making overt what we've been doing covertly for some time because the conditions are now suitable for us to come out and tell you that we hate you and seek to watch everything you do, say, buy and think in order to control you.
Every cyberwar needs good cyberwarriors. If soldiers are hired killers, then the Pentagon's virtual warfare requires hired hackers. Profiteers in death like Raytheon are only too happy to step up to the plate and announce its recruitment drive:"President Obama recently announced that cyber security is one of our country's most urgent national security priorities," reads the ad. "Raytheon is answering that call by hiring more cyber warriors this year to help fight the digital cyber war."Lest there be any doubt as to the 'defensive' nature of these new weapons of mass disruption, the military makes it quite clear that it will be 'taking the battlefield to the enemy':
Raytheon also has positions available for something called "media sanitation specialists."
The latter probably refers to workers skilled at erasing data from hard drives and other storage.The Pentagon plan calls for an offensive capacity, one that will deploy cyber weapons against imperialism's adversaries [...] designating CYBERCOM a STRATCOM branch all but guarantees an aggressive posture.And the best part about it is. . . CyberCommand will be placed in the capable hands of the NSA, that same ubiquitous behemoth super-spy agency responsible for spying on millions of American citizens during the Bush years. It becomes apparent that Obama's Cyber Czar office for cyber crimes is really political cover for the entrenchment of everything illegal the media created a false hoopla over towards the end of Bush's reign.
Others within the defense bureaucracy are far more enthusiastic, and forthright, when it comes to recommending that cyber armaments be fielded as offensive weapons of war. Indeed,
Armed Forces Journal featured a lengthy analysis advocating precisely that:The world has abandoned a fortress mentality in the real world, and we need to move beyond it in cyberspace. America needs a network that can project power by building an af.mil robot network (botnet) that can direct such massive amounts of traffic to target computers that they can no longer communicate and become no more useful to our adversaries than hunks of metal and plastic. America needs the ability to carpet bomb in cyberspace to create the deterrent we lack. (Col. Charles W. Williamson III, "Carpet Bombing in Cyberspace," Armed Forces Journal, May 2008)Infected computers are referred to as "zombies" that can be controlled remotely from any point on the planet by "master" machines. Unwary users are often "spoofed" by hackers through counterfeit e-mails replete with embedded hyperlinks into "cooperating" with the installation of malicious code.
While criminals employ botnets to generate spam or commit fraudulent transactions, draining a savings account or running-up credit card debt through multiple purchases for example, botnets also have the capacity to launch devastating distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against inadequately defended computers or indeed, entire networks.
In other words, should an "individual theatre commander" desire to suddenly darken a city or wreck havoc on a nation's electrical infrastructure at the behest of his political masters then by all means, go right ahead!These operations will deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, or deceive an adversary. We will enhance our capabilities to conduct electronic systems attack, electromagnetic systems interdiction and attack, network attack, and infrastructure attack operations.Simply put, the Pentagon intends to build an infrastructure fully-capable of committing high-tech war crimes.
'Cyberterrorists' conveniently christened the new regime by hacking websites in a Denial of Service (DoS) attack we are told continued for several days. Sites affected were located in South Korea and the US, the most high-profile of which was the White House website, hit on July 4th no less. While a US government spokesman reassured us on the one hand "that these types of Internet attacks happen everyday on government networks", that government sites were unaffected and that it was premature to say whodunnit, South Korea's intelligence agency immediately fingered North Korea as the source.
As we noted at the time,the nature of global IT systems are such that 'cyber attacks' can be made to appear to come from any source. Given the benign effects this attack produced, we think it more probable that this was an 'in-house' test of operational capabilities, especially coming so soon after the White House announcement that CYBERCOM is operational and will soon be interfering with internal affairs in a country near you.Well the Americans got one thing right when they said it was premature to identify the source of the attacks, because an investigation later found the source to be the UK:
Furthermore, framing North Korea conveniently fits its current role as useful bogeyman and deflects attention from certain other countries currently deploying cyber attacks in geo-political hotspots.We found a master server located in UK which controls all of the 8 C&C servers to make a series of cyber-attack last week. So the source of the attacks has been identified to be in UK. The existence of master server has never been reported before.Remember what was said above:
there have been 166,908 zombies from 74 countries around the world that have been used for the attacks.Infected computers are referred to as "zombies" that can be controlled remotely from any point on the planet by "master" machines. Unwary users are often "spoofed" by hackers through counterfeit e-mails replete with embedded hyperlinks into "cooperating" with the installation of malicious code.This appears to be how this 'false-flag cyber operation' was executed.
Baidu, China's Largest Search Engine, Hacked by "Iranian Cyber Army"