US zeroes in on Chinese hackers

Matt Bowman · February 22, 2010 · Short URL:

A freelance coder in his 30s was pressured by Chinese men-in-black, according to the Financial Times

 China looks a little guiltier this morning.

According the Financial Times, US government analysts believe they have identified a man with links to the Chinese government who wrote the key part of a spyware program used in the hacking attacks that compromised security at Google and a host of other western companies last year. The FT’s source is an unnamed “researcher working for the US government.”

A Chinese freelance consultant in his 30s wrote a key part of the code that exploited a weakness in Internet Explorer to break into computers at Google and a host of other western companies last year, according to the source. The consultant posted pieces of the program to an online forum, describing it as something he was “working on.”

The FT’s source said the worker would probably have preferred not to be involved in the offense, but was likely pressured by government officials. It’s not clear why the identification of the consultant points to the Chinese government—the report did not explain the nature of the “special access” the government had to his work.

Earlier, the New York Times reported that a team of investigators had tracked the spyware launch to two educational institutions in China, Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Lanxiang vocational school, both of which have denied involvement in the attacks. Jiaotong attracts elite students and has a School of Information Security Engineering.

Still no word on whether Google will actually pull out of China. The search giant threatened to shut down over complaints of hacking targeted at human rights activists critical of the Chinese government. In a blog post on January, 12, the company announced a reversal of its policy of cooperation with Chinese censors, in place since 2006, and said it would enter negotiations with the Chinese government.

“We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, 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. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.”


image credit: hunxue-er

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