U.S. to Seek Cyber-attack Explanation from China

Updated: State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley says the United States will lodge a formal complaint against China regarding cyber-attacks that struck Google, Adobe Systems and dozens of other companies.

The United States plans to ask China for an explanation regarding the cyber-attacks that recently hit Google, Adobe Systems and dozens of other companies.

In remarks Jan. 15 to the press, State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said the United States will be issuing a formal demarche to the Chinese Government on this issue in the coming days, most likely early next week. A transcript of his remarks is available here.

The demarche, Crowley said, would "express our concern for this incident and request information from China as to an explanation of how it happened and what they plan to do about it."

News of the cyber-attacks came to light when Google reported that it had uncovered an attack targeting its infrastructure and threatened to close down its Chinese operation.

"In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google," explained David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, in a Jan. 12 blog post. "However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident-albeit a significant one-was something quite different."

In the days since Drummond's blog post, reports about the attack have linked it to exploits targeting Adobe Reader and Internet Explorer. However, VeriSign's iDefense Labs has now retracted its statement regarding the Adobe vulnerability, saying it has been unable to confirm reports that this is an issue. Microsoft issued an advisory on the Internet Explorer issue Jan. 14.

"Incidents like this serve to bring the issue to the forefront, and I believe that Google is using the bully pulpit it has to bring the issue to mainstream attention," said Nick Selby, managing director at IT and physical security consultancy Trident Risk Management. "When you see Google and China and hacking on the front page of USA Today, nongeeks take notice-it's important to note that Google is itself far from the 'good guy' in this fight, with its capitulation to demands by the Chinese government to censor search results eroding any 'underdog' cred it might otherwise have enjoyed."

Editor's Note: This story was updated with a retraction from iDefense Labs regarding reports of an Adobe vulnerability.