US authorities announced Thursday that they are investigating claims by Google that hundreds of personal Gmail accounts were breached by hackers in China. Google disclosed [Guardian report] on Wednesday that hundreds of users, including US government and military officials and political activists, were targets of a "phishing" scam originating in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. Google alleges that the hacking scheme may have been authorized by the Chinese government. Christopher Painter [official website], coordinator for cyber issues for the US Department of State (DOS) [official website], indicated that determining whether the act was state-sponsored is a challenge in cybersecurity [AP report]. Delegates from various governments and private sector corporations convened for a conference in London to discuss such cybersecurity issues. China has since rejected Google's hacking claims, arguing the claims are unfounded [Reuters report].
China has been involved in a number of cybersecurity issues recently. In December, the New York Times reported [text] that Chinese officials allegedly orchestrated the hacking [JURIST report] of Google, which caused the Internet company to briefly pull out of China earlier in 2010. In November, Google urged the international community to ensure the free flow of online information [white paper text; JURIST report] by establishing new rules to protect against limitations on the Internet. In September, the State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China [official website, in Chinese] released a position paper [JURIST report] claiming that it has heightened Internet freedoms and describing how the Internet has become a tool for the Chinese government to promote transparency and consult the public before developing certain policies. In July, a Chinese government official said that Google had agreed to follow Chinese censorship laws [JURIST report] to gain a license renewal that would still prevent users from accessing sites that threatened national security, while not requiring Google to censor its China or Hong Kong based websites. This agreement was reached [JURIST report] in June after a dispute concerning Google's practice of redirecting mainland users to the Hong Kong-based website as a means of working around censorship laws. China responded by reiterating its commitment to open Internet [JURIST report], but stressing that international Internet companies must follow Chinese law. In February, the government announced new regulations [JURIST report] further restricting Internet use by requiring Chinese citizens to submit identity cards and meet with regulars before registering a website, prompting many to register sites overseas to avoid regulation.