China’s government was indeed behind the hack on Google’s Gmail system earlier this year according to a cable captured by the controversial Wikileaks organization.
Wikileaks, which butters its bread collecting secret documents and seeding them in media outlets, snagged 250,000 American diplomatic cables dating back three years and released some of them to the New York Times and other media outlets.
The Times cited one of the cables as proof that “China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January.”
The hack was part of a computer sabotage campaign carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. This has been going on since at least 2002, the cable said.
A Google spokesperson told eWEEK: “We aren’t going to be able to comment. As you know, since we revealed this incident in January, we haven’t been speculating as to the parties responsible.”
Easily one of the biggest stories of the year concerning Google, the search engine reported the China infiltration on its servers Jan. 12.
David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, described the hack as a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.”
Gmail accounts of human rights activists were accessed. The Chinese government denied any involvement.
Drummond said Google would no longer censor results on Google.cn and threatened to shut down its operations in China amid concerns about a cyber-attack and repeated efforts to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese activists.
The U.S. State Department, which oversees such matters, supported Google’s action, but didn’t do anything more to support the company beyond a “condemnation.”
Analysts at Jefferies and Co. said that while Google.cn accounts for $250 million to $300 million (1 to 2 percent) of Google’s net revenue, the long-term impact of Google’s absence from China could be greater because China boasts some 400 million Web users the search engine won’t be able to serve.
Failing to negotiate a proper resolution with the Chinese government, Google made partial good on its threat in March when it ceased censoring its Google Search, Google News and Google Images sites on Google.cn.
The company redirected those who visit the search engine to its Hong Kong site Google.com.hk, where it served users uncensored search in simplified Chinese.
Google ceased the redirect in June when the Chinese government threatened to not renew Google’s Internet Content Provider license to operate in the country.
China renewed Google’s operator’s license in July, and all has been quiet on the matter since the summer.