In mid-December, Google said in a blog posting
yesterday, the company discovered "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 significant one–was something quite different."
First, Google said, it found out that the attack on it apparently
was part of a coordinated attack against at least 20 other large
companies, many of which seem to be US-based. According to the Washington Post, it was more like 34 companies.
Second, Google says it has evidence suggesting that "a primary goal
of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human
rights activists." Google also said that it didn’t believe that more
than two GMail accounts were successfully accessed, however.
Third, Google did find that dozens of accounts of "US-, China- and
Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China
appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties"
apparently through persistent phishing and other malware attacks.
As a result, this and other problems with its operations in
China has led Google "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."
Needless to say, Google’s announcement has set off a firestorm that
more than one newspaper has said may impact US-China relations.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for instance, was said by the New York Times to have demanded an explanation from the Chinese government and was quoted
as saying that, "We have been briefed by Google on these allegations,
which raise very serious concerns and questions.We look to the Chinese
government for an explanation. The ability to operate with confidence
in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy."
China so far has not officially responded to Google’s threat, and the Chinese news media have been playing it down, but
I don’t see how it would ever bow to Google’s demands. My expectation
is that China will tell Google to take its search engine and not let
the cyber door hit you on the way out.
According to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal, Google China has about 31% of the search engine market while China’s home grown Baidu
has 64%. Furthermore, Google is (was) planning to sell its cell phone
systems in China, which gives the Chinese government a lot of financial
The next 72 hours will be interesting to watch.