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Yahoo!'s Chinese affiliate has slammed its part owner for siding with Google in an ongoing row over cyber-espionage attacks on Western businesses, widely blamed on the Chinese government.

Last week, Yahoo! said it was "aligned" with Google in fighting "attempts to infiltrate company networks to obtain user information". This came in the wake of Google's surprise statement that it was considering exiting China, after discovering attempts to hack into the webmail accounts of Chinese dissidents. Yahoo! added that it condemned "cyber-attacks regardless of origin or purpose".

Alibaba Group, which runs Yahoo!'s operations in China and is 40 per cent owned by the US tech firm, has distanced itself from its part-owner's statement. It describes the outburst as reckless, "given the lack of facts in evidence," Reuters reports.

Google and at least 20 other Western firms were hit by targeted attacks first detected in December. Google took the unusual step of going public on the attacks last Tuesday, saying it would stop censoring Chinese search results and threatening a pull-out in response. Adobe confirmed it was also the victim of the same run of attacks, which exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer. This was used to drop a Trojan on compromised systems, as explained in a write-up on the attacks by McAfee here.

VeriSign iDefense has withdrawn earlier claims, denied by Adobe, that an unpatched Adobe Reader vulnerability featured in the attacks.

Yahoo!, Symantec and Juniper Networks have also been named as targets of the IE-based attacks.

Cyber-espionage attacks, using booby-trapped emails and unpatched software vulnerabilities, have been part and parcel of the internet for at least five years. It is therefore only Google's stand and the apparent sophistication of the latest run of attacks that mark them out as anything special.

Reuters cites unnamed sources in suggesting that Yahoo may have known about the latest wave of attacks, before Google's technical staff got in touch to warn that it might have been hit. This remains unconfirmed, especially in the absence of a clear timeline for the attacks.

Yahoo! is one of the few tech heavyweights to express solidarity with Google. The primary concern of most technology firms is probably to avoid doing anything to upset business relations with China.

Respecting the privacy of Chinese internet users is a sensitive subject for Yahoo!. The webmail and search firm was lambasted by human rights activists for handing over emails sent by dissidents three years ago. At the time, Yahoo! said it was only complying with local laws.

In related news, Reuters reports that Google is investigating the possibility that local employees may have colluded in facilitating the hack. Some Google China employees have reportedly been blocked from accessing Google's intranet, while others were shuffled off to other offices in the region. ®

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