Google's official blog reports that a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" on Google's infrastructure has the company rethinking its involvement in China. Google faced criticism from a number of human rights organization for moving into China and agreeing to self censor. Read more in a previous post -- Google Censors Itself for China.
In Google's very candid post, David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, explains that what appeared to be a security incident, now appears to be a widespread attack on a number of large companies, the goal of which appears to be to access information on Chinese human rights activists. Google believes someone has tried to access the Gmail accounts of activists but has been successful only in getting to the subject headings of the email, not to content. They believe that the accounts were not accessed through a breach in Googles' security but through phishing scams or malware that has been placed on users' computers.
Google is working with the appropriate U.S. authorities and has reported the breaches to the other large corporations.
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.
Although they believe China has benefited from the launch of Google.cn in January 2006, they are following up on their promise to carefully monitor conditions in China.
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have 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.
This could have far-reaching consequences for China and for free speech and perhaps even Chinese - Western relationships.
Don't forget that the Banned Book Challenge begins in February.