John Paczkowski

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World War WAN: Google Hack Traced to Schools in China

The online attacks that inspired Google’s (GOOG) “new approach to China” have been traced to computers at two educational institutions in the country, including one with ties to the Chinese military.

Anonymous sources close to the investigation into the attacks, which targeted dozens of American corporations, tell the New York Times they originated at Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Lanxiang Vocational School. The former boasts one of China’s top computer science programs; the latter has been known to train computer scientists for the Chinese military and reportedly has ties to Baidu, the dominant search engine in China.

While the implications of these findings seem obvious, insiders differ on what they really mean. Some suspect the schools are being used as a cover for Chinese government operations. Others speculate that they’re being used to hide intelligence operations run by a third country. Still others wonder if there’s no government involvement here at all, speculating that the attacks are criminal in origin and were intended to steal intellectual property from American tech firms.

Regardless of which scenario seems most plausible, it’s important to remember that just because the attacks have been linked to IP addresses at these schools’ networks doesn’t mean they necessarily began there.

Asked about the possibility the attacks originated at his school, a professor of Web security at Jiaotong’s School of Information Security Engineering said it was certainly possible.

“I’m not surprised,” the source told the Times. “Actually students hacking into foreign Web sites is quite normal. I believe there’s two kinds of situations. One is it’s a completely individual act of wrongdoing, done by one or two geek students in the school who are just keen on experimenting with their hacking skills learned from the school, since the sources in the school and network are so limited. Or it could be that one of the university’s I.P. addresses was hijacked by others, which frequently happens.”


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[Image Credit: China Security Blog]


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald