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Google vs. China Round 3: Chinese Human Rights Web Sites Under Cyberattack

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The continuing Google versus Chinese censorship and cyberattack affair has just taken a bizarre twist: Five Chinese human rights activists Web sites were the subject of DDoS attacks over the weekend, and they are blaming the Chinese government.

Google alleges that China-based hack attacks to its secret code and numerous Gmail accounts are behind its moves to un-censor its service, though in truth the reasons are much more complex and somewhat financially motivated. The attacks were apparently much more widespread, however, and many other bodies in the U.S. were also targeted—an event which has escalated the affair up to government level. Meanwhile Chinese sites are making claims that they too are the subject of cyber attacks, in an attempt to politically spin the news.

But the latest news is particularly controversial. Web sites belonging to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, Canyu and New Century News sites, and the Independent Chinese Pen Center (which hosts essays from dissident writers) were subject to distributed denial of service attacks over the weekend. The attacks lasted many hours, and targeted IP addresses at Texas-based hosting provider The Planet.

The CHRD group noted that the source of the attacks hadn't yet been determined, but it unashamedly pointed the finger directly at the Chinese government. This news will most definitely heighten tensions between the U.S. and China. Hilary Clinton has already controversially stated that China should relax its censorship, President Obama is known to be "troubled" by the matter, and the China's officials have responded with harsh words of their own: Today government spokespersons have denied any involvement in the cyberattacks against U.S. interests. They also noted that the U.S. accusations are "groundless" and actually aim "to denigrate China." And a Chinese paper has even gone one step further, and accused the U.S. government of leveraging Net technology to play a role in the unrest in Iran. Though this is but a war of words, the two governments are in such head-to-head opposition, and have a reputation for stubbornness that hints the affair will not be resolved swiftly.

Google, in the mean time, is still operating in China and it's not known how its role will play out—if it does lift its censorship (as Eric Shmidt has promised will happen soon) it seems increasingly likely that the authorities will force it to shut down its search system. Google has stated it wishes to maintain a business presence in China should this happen, but it's not known what form this will take. All that is clear is that a suite of cyberattacks seem to be responsible, for the first time, for stirring up a geo-political conflict on a truly international level.

[Via PCWorld, Reuters]