Google, which announced on Wednesday that it is reviewing its China operations, issued what must be one of the most unusual statements ever released by a company. It said that it had unearthed evidence on attacks on 20 companies originating from China and had also come across systematic attempts to access Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. These activities, the company said, raised wider questions about human rights and censor ship. Edited excerpts:
LIKE MANY other well-known organisations, 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 businessesincluding the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectorshave 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 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.
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncoveredcombined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the webhave 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 are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.
-The Economic Times.