China neither admits nor apologizes for large-scale state-sponsored hacking

Days after reports of widespread Chinese hacking into dozens of Silicon Valley tech firms — most notably Google — The New York Times reports widespread hacking of Chinese dissidents' email accounts:

Both inside China and overseas, the number of people stepping forward to report accounts of hacking, both suspected and successful, continued to rise. Zeng Jinyan, the wife of the imprisoned rights defender Hu Jia, said on her blog that shadow copies of recent e-mails she had sent had automatically been sent to an address she did not recognize.

Teng Biao, a civil rights lawyer, discovered the same thing. In an interview, he said copies had been sent to a Gmail address just two characters different from his own.

Tenzin Seldon, a Tibetan activist and a student at Stanford University in California, said Google had examined her laptop and confirmed that hackers had gained access to her Gmail account.

And in Washington, Nury A. Turkel, a lawyer who advocates for China’s Uighur minority, said he was certain someone had hacked into his Gmail account because text he had used in a message ended up in the body of an e-mail message that he said was harboring a virus.

Among those who say they were victimized was Gregory Fayer, a lawyer who represents a California software maker suing the Chinese government over claims of piracy. He said more than a dozen employees at the firm had received e-mail messages Monday purporting to come from their managing partner.

Investigators, he said, later determined the messages were so-called Trojan horse attacks intended to breach computers and allow the infiltrators to remotely remove files. “We have no idea who is sending these, but they’re very sophisticated,” said Mr. Fayer, whose client, Cybersitter, filed a $2.2 billion suit last week. “People feel violated.”

Large-scale state-sponsored hacking — for political purposes, no less — is seriously damaging China’s reputation. Does anyone in China’s government know anything about “soft power” (power arising from moral, intellectual and cultural persuasion)? It seems they recognize only “hard power” (authority, threat, force, compulsion and punishment). A global superpower — which China aspires to become — that ignores soft power will encounter severe pushback, both domestically and internationally. But hard power is all China’s monopolistic, one-party system knows. China’s government has, predictably, taken a hard-line stand against Google’s appeal for less censorship and an end to state-sponsored hacking:

[State Council information director Wang Chen] urged Internet companies to increase scrutiny of news or information that might threaten national stability and stressed the importance of “guiding” online public opinion.

Web sites in China are required to employ people who monitor and delete objectionable content; tens of thousands of others are paid to “guide” bulletin board Web exchanges in the government’s favor.

Posted by James on Thursday, January 14, 2010