The Yahoo! email accounts of several journalists and activists whose work relates to China were hacked into by unknown cyber pirates, in an incident similar to that which led Internet giant Google to shut down its Chinese website.
In an unpleasant case of ‘déjà-vu’, the Foreign correspondent’s club in China (FCCC) reported Wednesday that the Yahoo! email accounts of several journalists working in the country had been hacked into, and their private emails duplicated.
The cyber attacks reportedly began on March 23, the day after Yahoo!’s rival Google announced that it had stopped censoring the search results on China’s version of its search engine. Although the two incidents are not officially linked, the attacks have added fuel to the growing international outcry on Internet censorship in China.
According to the FCCC, a total of 10 Yahoo! email accounts belonging to journalists – most of whom were working on sensitive articles on issues like Tibet or human rights violations - were broken into. The content of their private emails were then duplicated and transferred to other email accounts, whose provenance remains unidentified.
Several rights groups also reported incidents involving their email accounts, including the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group that China accuses of inciting separatist tendencies amongst ethnic Uighurs in the frontier region of Xinjiang.
Yahoo!’s response to the incidents has been surprisingly mild. On Tuesday, the company issued a statement saying that it “condemns all cyber attacks, regardless of origin or purpose”. The timid reaction leaves victims somewhat dissatisfied. Kathleen McLaughlin, a freelance journalist based in Beijing and one of the victims of the attacks, told the New York Times on Tuesday that Yahoo! had failed to reply to her repeated requests for information about the incident. All Yahoo! sent her, she said, was a succinct, neutral email informing her that her “account appeared to have encountered a problem”.
Yahoo!’s apparent reticence to confront a possible case of Internet piracy by the Chinese authorities contrasts sharply with that of its rival Google after it the recent similar incident involving Google Mail. The tense, three-month standoff that ensued led to Google’s decision on March 2 to shut down its Chinese portal and re-direct web users in China to its uncensored Hong-Kong based search engine.