Submitted by the Firecracker Report
development today Google threatened to close down its China operations
after unearthing a highly sophisticated attack aimed at accessing gmail
accounts of Chinese human-rights activists. According to Google the
attacks originated in China and included accounts of U.S. and E.U.
based activists. Google made the announcement today in its blog-post
titled "A New Approach to China".
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. 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
businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and
chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the
process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the
relevant U.S. authorities.
attacks as "highly sophisticated" Google is essentially pointing a
finger at the Chinese government/intelligence agencies. That the cyber
attack has been elevated to a U.S. national security threat level, is
evidenced by the State Department's involvement, and a statement by
Secretary Hillary Clinton in which she asked Beijing to respond to Google's allegations. A report in the Telegraph offered further details:
The State department said that Mrs Clinton had met with executives from Google and Microsoft, as well as with Cisco Systems, which provides much of China's internet infrastructure, to discuss how to stop countries from "stifling" access to information.
Most interestingly, the Telegraph went on to point out that:
Next week the US is to launch a new technology policy to help citizens in other countries to gain access to an uncensored internet.
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.We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will 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.
warfare is the covert game nations play, and these attacks are nothing
new. Several U.S. military and scientific institutions such as NASA -
with far more sensitive national security information have been the target of hacking from China. In November 2008, a bipartisan U.S. Commission to analyze economic and national security relationship with China concluded
that, "China has stepped up its capacity to penetrate U.S. computer
networks to extract sensitive government and private information".
However, what we question is the following:
Why is Google threatening to
close operations at this juncture - i.e. four years after they entered
China knowing full well that they will have to censor information to
comply with Chinese government regulations. In 2006, Google seemed to
completely disregard the human rights and freedom of speech
considerations arguing that "the benefits of providing increased access
to information to Chinese citizens outweighed the discomfort of
censorship". Then why the sudden about face and embracing of altruistic
values such as "freedom of speech" now?
If the U.S. Government has not stopped doing business with China, despite its Communist status, countless cyber attacks, stealing of state secrets, human rights abuses and lack of freedom of speech and democracy, then why the about face by Google?
The link between the Chinese Government's (implied involvement but not explicitly stated by Google) hacking of gmail servers to extract dissident information and Google closing its entire
operation in China (search engine and cell phones running on Android)
is tenuous and illogical at best. While the attacks are no doubt
serious, we wonder if they are serious "enough" for a company like
Google to forsake the world's largest internet subscriber market.
So far Google has not had much
success in China's internet search market having captured only 1/3
market share. Its chief competitor Baidu.com controls the remaining 2/3. In addition by pulling out of China Google does not stand to lose too much, as pointed out by Bloomberg: "A pullout would deprive Google of an estimated $600 million in annual revenue [out of total revenues of $24 billion, thus a very small percentage] and may help domestic Baidu extend its lead in the world’s largest online market. “There’s no other competitor, so if Google pulls out, Baidu is left by itself,” said Erwin Sanft, an analyst at BNP Paribas SA in Hong Kong". Now Google has to have factored in the scenario that the Chinese government calls its bluff and asks them to "leave".
It is highly unlikely that the Chinese government will acquiesce to allowing Google to operate an unfiltered search engine, especially when Baidu,
a domestic Chinese player (that the government can control), holds a
2/3 market share. In the current shaky economic scenario the Chinese
government will try its level best to keep a lid on citizen's
dissent. To do this it has unfortunately resorted to severe censorship
of the Internet banning services such as facebook, twitter and youtube.
Even so, the Chinese government is not illogical in this endeavor - it
is well aware of covert campaigns launched by the U.S. government via facebook
and twitter in Iran to help overthrow the Iranian government. China is
not about to let the U.S. push the same fate on its own government.
posturing boils down to, is the fact that a new and dangerous war-front
has opened up - one between the U.S. and China. Currently the war is
economic, political and covert in nature. The U.S. government knows
that the nations fiscal situation is abysmal and that China holds the
trump card over its fate by being its largest creditor. In addition
faced with rampant joblessness, a weakened U.S. consumer is more
dependent that ever, on cheap goods manufactured in China. While cheap Chinese
imports allow the Fed to keep a lid on domestic inflation, they do
not alleviate rampant U.S. unemployment. Protectionist pressures are
growing on a desperate U.S. government struggling to fix the
unemployment situation. This tussle has led to the imposition of trade
sanctions against Chinese companies on non-strategic sectors like
certain steel and tire imports.
to the nation being the world's sole super power, fear the rapid rise
of China. They fear the global domination of a Communist nation and
this in turn has led to naval and airspace incursions into Chinese
territory by the U.S. military, as well as the geo-political
blockages by the U.S. to severe Chinese access to the world's mineral
and oil resources. The current crisis in the Middle East an oil rich
region is a direct result of this strategy.
deteriorates, these tensions are only going to escalate. While the U.S.
government is not going to start a military excursion with China
anytime soon, strategy hawks know that one way to slow the rise of
China and reduce its grip on America's economic collar is to create a
suitable diversion for the Chinese government. The U.S. intelligence
apparatus, which has several decades of experience staging coups and
overthrowing democratically elected governments across the world, is now staging a similar policy with China.
heel in its rise as the world's leading economy. With China's economy
deeply intertwined with declining U.S. consumption, huge swaths of its
population who are employed in manufacturing and related sectors stand
to lose their jobs. Couple this with the fact that there exists a
complete lack of democracy, freedom and human rights in China. The
Chinese government knows that young unemployed people, especially those
whose rights have been suppressed, always make a deadly cocktail. It
wants to avoid setting off this bomb at any cost. The Chinese
government has unfortunately responded to this threat by clamping down
on information provided via the internet.
in its pursuit to weaken China. This explains the recent "freedom of
speech" campaign launched by the U.S. to "educate" the Chinese people
to revolt against their own government. Barack Obama fired the first
salvo when he visited China last year where he told a town hall
gathering that he was "a big supporter of non-censorship". He went on
to state that "These freedoms of expression, and worship, of access to
information and political participation - we believe they are universal
rights. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and
religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or
any nation." Now the State Department along with Google (whose CEO Eric
Schmidt is a huge supporter of Obama) have joined the "freedom of
speech" chorus, which will only grow louder in the coming days.
our reader that we do not support China's autocratic suppression of its
people's freedoms. What we are merely trying to point out here is that
there a deeper strategic (and frankly on some level inherently evil)
rather than altruistic motive behind Google and President Obama's
"freedom of speech and democracy" lecturing. If China is truly to try
to become a global power it needs to willingly unleash democratic
forces within its borders. The Chinese government would be safer doing
this on their own terms rather than have their hand forced by American
propaganda (at which point widespread civil unrest in China is a
given). The Chinese people would do well to pay attention.