China at it again: Journalist, activist emails hacked

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most evil of them all... Chinese hackers are at it again.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most evil of them all... Chinese hackers are at it again. According to a New York Times article, journalists who report on Chinese news, along with human rights activists, and a unidentified law professor based in the U.S., all of whom had yahoo email accounts, unbeknownst to them, had their email settings changed to send duplicate emails to a different email account. The NYT report does not identify the email address destination.

The NYT article says at least 10 journalists accounts were hacked:

Kathleen McLaughlin, an American freelance journalist in Beijing who sits on the board of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, said the group has confirmed that 10 journalists, including herself, had their accounts compromised.

Like the others, said she received a message from Yahoo on Thursday indicating that her account had been disabled because, according to an automated message, "we have detected an issue with your account."

She said she contacted Yahoo but has yet to receive an explanation of what happened. "Someone is clearly targeting journalists," she said. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable."

A request for comment from Yahoo went unanswered. Yahoo was heavily criticized when it disclosed several individuals' information to the Chinese government in 2006. Yahoo, a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), in 2008 sold control of its search engine business in China to Alibaba soon after. Yahoo did not appear before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Human Rights and the Law March 7th of this year. The NYT states the attacks began last Thursday, which concurs with Google's announcement and policy change in China, redirecting its search site to Hong Kong and eliminating censorship of content and pulling out of mainland China and moving search operations and servers to Hong Kong. The saber rattling has been ongoing ever since with Google and China taking potshots at each other through the press.

Has the Chinese government run amok? China has been angered on several fronts by U.S. interests: President Obama's visit in Nov '09 which discussed human rights; trade agreements; the Dalai Lama White House visit two weeks ago; public lashing at Copenhagen (Global Warming); currency valuation; Google's full court press to change its agreement; and -- the icing on the cake -- U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. The government retaliated in sequence: it threw Copenhagen negotiations into toilet, held steady on its currency, sold billions of U.S. Treasury bonds, told Google to comply to the law as they promised upon starting operations. China followed through with several other minor embargoes which made no sense including the military.

The U.S. Navy got tangled up in the mess during Thanksgiving with the planned visit of the U.S.S Kitty Hawk on its last cruise prior to decommissioning next year. The Kitty Hawk has visited Hong Kong several times throughout its service and is the last non-nuclear powered aircraft carrier in U.S. naval service. The Chinese Government announced prior to the Dalai Lama visit to the White House that the carrier could be refused entry to Hong Kong which had been planned months in advance. Officials in Hong Kong then refused entry one day prior to its scheduled arrival. Pacific Fleet then ordered the carrier to head to its Far East home port Yokosaka Japan. The Chinese then changed their minds at the last minute, a misunderstanding they claim, but by that time Pacific Fleet Command had ordered the ship to continue onwards to Japan. Hundreds of relatives of crew members had flown to Hong Kong in anticipation of the Kitty Hawk's port visit during the holiday. In 2006, the Kitty Hawk had a close encounter with a Chinese submarine.

Yesterday China signaled it wanted to reduce the friction between the two countries as reported by Reuters;

While those tensions have not evaporated, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang indicated that his government wanted to lower the temperature of contention.

"China appreciates President Obama's and Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg's positive stance on promoting China-U.S. relations," Qin told a regular news conference in Beijing.

Qin did not give any details of Zhang's discussions with Obama and Steinberg. But Qin said his government "took seriously the U.S. side's reiteration of its principled commitments on the Taiwan and Tibet issues."

China says the United States must accept that Taiwan and Tibet are part of "one China." Washington has urged Beijing to address those disputes through peaceful dialogue.

"Recently, there have been uncalled for disturbances in China-U.S. relations, and this does not suit our common bilateral interests," added Qin.

Sam Diaz's story reveal outages on Google's search engine continue. Other reports suggest that Google Mobile is now completely blocked from mainland China user access. As I have written in previous articles, Google needs to pull out of China completely if it is to follow through its publicly announced corporate philosophy, or stay and comply with Chinese law. Yahoo needs to decide what to do with its minority ownership of Alibaba since it no longer has policy or management control of its services inside the country. It's not known what kind of security settings the law professor in the U.S. had configured or where it was setup (Asia or the U.S.). Yahoo offers sign in protection to users in Canada and the U.S. but offers no guarantee that email is secure and protected from redirection. In Yahoo's defense, the NYT article reports that it was Yahoo security officials that alerted the users their email account security had been compromised. The ZDNet Government feedback audience usually offers two pieces of advice; pull out of China or block China from accessing the world. I'm beginning to think one or both of these ideas make a lot of sense.

Additional resources:

EFF: Gmail vulnerable to snooping: SSL certificates often faked

NYT: China Counters Google position. Partners begin divorce proceedings

Google wants R&D and sales to stay in China - but is that realistic?

Copenhagen: It's all about trade, not global warming, and China is the target

Commerce Secretary: Patent delays are a scandal

Google on the defensive, vulnerable; China risks international and U.S. response

China's Internet policy begins new arms race

Apple, Facebook, Twitter, HP decline to testify re: Human Rights and Law

China: Google has never officially complained about attack

US Trade Rep unsure if legal options exist to negotiate China Internet restriction

Sec. Clinton releases global Human Rights Report: China and Iran Internet Freedom highlighted

US Strategic Command recognizes cyber security challenges

Intelligence community warns Senate committee of increased terror threats

Internet attack defense: License and registration please...

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