Google.cn may Shutdown, Issue Over Cyber Threat and Internet Freedom

GoogleIn a recent blog post titled A new approach to China, Google announced that, Google may shut down their Chinese search engine Google.cn and close down their operations in China. This decision was taken in the wake of the recent cyber attacks on Google and a few other organizations, to get information from Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The attacks were originated from China.

In mid-December Google faced highly sophisticated and targeted cyber attacks on their corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.

The primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, but the attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Google’s investigation have discovered that the accounts of dozens of Gmail users in U.S., China and Europe, 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.

Google said 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.

Google states that, they have used the information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users.

In the wake of these recent attacks and to protect freedom of speach, Google reviewed the feasibility of continuing business operations in China and have decided not to continue censoring search results on Google.cn, which was launched in January 2006. Google is discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which Google could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all possible. If this does not turn positive, Google may well shut down Google.cn and potentially their offices in China.

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Google has only 26% of the search market in China, while local Baidu.cn search engine holds 60% market share. Baidu has a close relationship with the Chinese government. China has the world’s biggest number of Internet users at 360 million.

This rift between Google, China and the US could change the face of the Internet forever. Blocking Google from indexing Chinese sites would hinder international access to one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

China has been hiding the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre pictures and similar news under the “Great Firewall of China“. The government-controlled newspapers across China were ordered not to write their own news stories about the Google decision, rather to use only stories produced by the official Xinhua News Agency or the People’s Daily.

It is reported that, comments favorable to Google on Chinese blogs and web portals began disappearing during the afternoon and were replaced by posts suggesting Google made a bad business decision which it would come to regret.

The White House backs the right to a free internet and has confirmed it has held talks with Google. Yahoo announced that it was “aligned” with Google and would support the company in its efforts to push back against the Chinese government. Facebook and Twitter, which have resisted the government’s requests to filter content, have been already banned from China.

China told companies to cooperate with state control of the Internet, showing no sign of giving ground on censorship after Google threatened to quit China. In a statement posted on the State Council Information Office website, warned against pornography, cyber-attacks, online fraud and “rumours”, saying that government and Internet media have a responsibility to shape public opinion.

Google requests internet users 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 to keep the system up-to-date. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online.

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