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Chinese schools deny Google cyber-attack links

Five weeks later, web giant still censors China search

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Two Chinese schools have denied a New York Times report that they were involved in the much-discussed cyber attacks on Google and at least 33 other outfits sometime last year.

On Thursday, The Times reported that the attacks had been traced to Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School, claiming that the latter had close ties to the Chinese military. But representatives of both schools have denied involvement to the Chinese state news agency, according to Reuters, and the Lanxiang representative denied links to the military.

Speaking with China's official Xinhua news agency, a representative of Shanghai Jiaotong University indicated that even if the attacks appeared to be linked to an IP address at the school, that does not mean its students were involved. "We were shocked and indignant to hear these baseless allegations which may harm the university's reputation," said the unnamed spokesman.

"The report of the New York Times was based simply on an IP address. Given the highly developed network technology today, such a report is neither objective nor balanced."

The Communist party boss at Lanxiang Vocational School told the news agency that an investigation "in the staff" had shown no signs that the attacks originated from the school. He also said that the school had no ties to the Chinese military and that contrary to the Times report, there was no link between the attacks and a computer class at the school taught by a Ukrainian professor.

"There is no Ukrainian teacher in the school and we have never employed any foreign staff," he said. "The report was unfounded. Please show the evidence."

In January, Google told the world that attacks originating from China had pilfered unspecified intellectual property from the company. Microsoft later said that the attack had exploited a hole in its Internet Explorer 6 browser - since patched - and according to security researchers, at least 33 other companies were targeted by similar attacks.

The Chinese government later denied any role in the attacks.

According to Google, "a primary goal" of the the attackers was to access the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The company said that attacks on two Gmail accounts were largely unsuccessful, but that an investigation showed that accounts belonging to dozens of activists in the US, China, and Europe "have been routinely accessed by third parties."

In its blog post outing the attack, Google threatened to leave the country, where it has done business since January 2006. "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," the post said. "We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."

But more than five weeks have passed since the post without an official update from Google. And at a conference more than a week ago, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told The Times that any change in the situation may take "a year or two" rather than "a few weeks."

"I want to find a way to work within the Chinese system to bring information to the people,” he said. “Perhaps we won’t succeed immediately, but maybe in a year or two.”

Increasingly, it appears that Google's threat to leave the country was merely a means to diverting attention from the fact that its defenses had been breached by outside hackers. ®

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