Almost a year after Google's (GOOG) China servers got hacked, launching a standoff between Google and the Chinese government over censorship, a set of classified cables leaked by WikiLeaks appears to end the uncertainty about who was responsible.
While there were some conflicting reports about which agency actually directed the various attacks, several contacts told American diplomats that the Chinese government was involved. American officials believe the cyberattacks "originated in China with either the assistance or knowledge of the Chinese military," reports The New York Times, which -- along with The Guardian newspapers -- received the memos from WikiLeaks.
The hacking operations also were far more extensive than most people realized. The campaign targeted not only Gmail accounts of political dissidents, as Google announced last January, and data from other large companies, but also U.S. government and military data -- including information on the computers of U.S. diplomats involved in climate-change talks with China, according to the Times.
Years of Heavy Pressure
Google faced years of heavy censorship pressure -- and, for the most part, complied -- before pulling the plug on its Chinese search engine after the cyberattack that breached its email accounts and proprietary source code, the Times says.
Google first reported the "highly sophisticated" attack in January, when it said it was considering ending operations in China as a result. Adobe (ADBE), Yahoo (YHOO) and others also announced similar breaches. In March, Google stopped censoring its Chinese-language search results, as required by Chinese law, by moving its servers to Hong Kong and shutting down its Chinese search site, Google.cn, rerouting traffic to the uncensored Google.com.hk. The People's Republic soon began to block politically sensitive search results from the Hong Kong site.
The standoff lasted until July, when Google, threatened with the loss of its business license, agreed to stop automatically rerouting users to the Hong Kong page. Instead, it created a Chinese landing page that users could click on to get to the Hong Kong site, and resumed hosting some content -- maps, music and translation services that it claimed couldn't be censored -- in China.
Many internet privacy groups and advocates of free speeched criticized Google when it returned to China. Whether those criticisms were fair or not, these cables make it clear that Google was up against much stronger forces than the company's critics knew.