The attacks by Chinese hackers on Google's systems have entered the realm of international relations. In a speech on Internet freedom in Washington on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on China to make a "transparent" probe of the situation.
"Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century," Clinton said at the Newseum journalism museum. The U.S. and China "have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently," she said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Earlier this month, Google announced it had suffered an unusual series of attacks emanating from China. "We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists," Google's chief lawyer, David Drummond, wrote in a blog post. "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."
Threats to 'Free Flow of Information'
These politically based attacks, Drummond announced, "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."
Clinton said China is one of several countries -- including Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam -- where there has been a recent "spike in threats to the free flow of information" over the past year. "Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world's networks. They have expunged words, names and phrases from search-engine results," Clinton said. "They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in nonviolent political speech."
China appears to be making entreaties to convince Google to stay in the country. On Saturday, the official news agency Xinhua pointed out that Baidu, the number-one search engine in China, also suffered a cyberattack this week. "There is no sense blowing things out of proportion and turning a business issue into a political or diplomatic dispute," Xinhua said.
Avoiding the Cyberwar Word
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said at a news conference Thursday, "The Google case should not be linked with relations between the two governments and countries; otherwise, it's an overinterpretation," he said, according to Xinhua.
In a previous speech, Clinton argued, "From an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech," according to the Associated Press. "If businesses in your nation are denied access to either type of information, it will inevitably reduce growth."
Clinton's statements fell short of accusing China of cyberattacks against the U.S., but Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, said in an e-mail, "When these attacks will be risen to the level of cyberwar against the U.S. probably has more to do with when the administration wants it to happen and not if it has happened. Declaring your country has been the victim of cyberwar takes on an entire new paradigm."
"While the Google attacks were worrisome, the administration is probably not at a juncture where they desire the ongoing feuds to be risen to such nontrivial levels," Storms said.
"Much of the Internet backbone is owned and controlled by private entities. The federal government is already making strides to clear the way for private/public partnerships in order to help safeguard private infrastructure," he added.