Yesterday, Google announced that it would stop filtering search results in China, and that it was considering shutting down its China operations all together. In a post on the Official Google Blog, the company revealed that recently a sophisticated cyber attack on Google and other companies came from within China, and was targeted against human rights activists.“What at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different,” Google Senior Vice President for Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in the post.
Google said that at least 20 other large companies were victims of the attack, and that Google is notifying those companies, working with U.S. authorities, and making “infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users.”
In a statement released yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that Google had contacted U.S. authorities: “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.”
In his post, Drummond said Google had “evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.” He added that the attackers and were only able to successfully access two individual accounts, and were prevented from accessing e-mail content in either of those.
“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,” Drummond said. In the next few weeks, Google and the Chinese government will negotiate the possibility and legality of providing unfiltered search results to Chinese internet users. If China refuses, Drummond suggested, Google may shut down google.cn and its China offices.
Drummond said that Google was sharing information about the attack publicly “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.”