Google has announced that it may exit China after becoming the victim of a huge cyber attack originating in the country. The New York Times reports:
Google said that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human right activists, but that the attack also targeted 20 other large companies in the finance, technology, media and chemical sectors.
“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,” Mr. Drummond wrote in a blog post.
He wrote that Google was no longer willing to censor results on its Chinese-language search engine and would discuss with Chinese authorities whether it could operate an uncensored search engine in that country.
A United States expert on cyber warfare said that 34 companies were targeted, most of them high-technology companies in Silicon Valley. The attacks came from Taiwanese Internet addresses, according to James Mulvenon, an expert on Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities.
Mr. Mulvenon said that the stolen documents were sent electronically to a server controlled by Rackspace, based in San Antonio.
“For Google to pull up stakes and basically pull out China, the attack must have been large in scope and very penetrating,” Mr. Mulvenon said. “This attack highlights the fact that cyberwarfare has basically gone to the next level.”
MarketWatch comments that this is “…a surprising move that could affect Google’s presence in a coveted, fast-growing international market.” That’s putting it mildly. If Google really does pull out of China, it will ignite an international debate on censorship, as well as polarize the Sino-American debate on technology and freedom of speech. This is a big deal.