[IRP] Google's new approach to China - freedom of speech

Don Cameron donc
Wed Jan 13 04:02:44 EET 2010

  1/12/2010 03:00:00 PM Like many other well-known organizations, we 
face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. 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. However, it soon 
became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security 
incident--albeit a significant one--was something quite different. 
 First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our 
investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large 
companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, 
finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly 
targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those 
companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities. 
 Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the 
attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights 
activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack 
did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have 
been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information 
(such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather 
than the content of emails themselves. 
 Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack 
on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, 
China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights 
in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. 
These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at 
Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the 
users' computers. 
 We have already used information gained from this attack to make 
infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security 
for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would 
advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs 
on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and 
to update their web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on 
links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share 
personal information like passwords online. You can read more here [2] 
about our cyber-security recommendations. People wanting to learn more 
about these kinds of attacks can read this U.S. government report [3] 
(PDF), Nart Villeneuve\'s blog [4] and this [5] presentation on the 
GhostNet spying incident. 
 We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these 
attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and 
human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because 
this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate 
about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China's economic 
reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted 
hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this 
great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development 
in the world today. 
 We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the 
benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a 
more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor 
some results. At the time we made clear [6] that "we will carefully 
monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions 
on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the 
objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to 
 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. We recognize that this may well mean having to 
shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China. 
 The decision to review our business operations in China has been 
incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially 
far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was 
driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge 
or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly 
hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to 
working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised. 
 Posted by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal 
[4] http://www.nartv.org/ 
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