Hackers said to breach Gmail accounts in China

Users discovered that their e-mail accounts were compromised after Google said last week that hackers had tried to attack its security infrastructure.

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BEIJING--Google e-mail accounts of at least two foreign journalists in Beijing have been compromised, a journalists' advocacy group in China said on Monday, adding that hackers changed Gmail program settings so that all messages would be forwarded to unfamiliar addresses.

The journalists apparently discovered the irregularities after Google announced last week that hackers had tried sophisticated attacks on its security infrastructure. The company suspects that those attacks originated in mainland China.

Google also said that two Gmail accounts had been compromised, adding separately that the e-mail accounts of dozens of people pressing for human rights in China had been hacked.

In response, Google said last week that it would talk to the Chinese government about ending self-censorship of its Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn, and that the company could close down or curtail its operations in China.

The two foreign journalists were among a large number of Gmail users in China who discovered that their accounts had been compromised after Google made its announcement. In many cases, it was unclear when the hackers had broken into the accounts.

The attacks on e-mail accounts were separate from those weeks ago aimed at the security infrastructure of Google and more than 30 other companies and entities, most of them based in Silicon Valley in California.

One of the two journalists is a television reporter in the Beijing bureau of The Associated Press, which has one of the largest foreign news operations in China. E-mail messages in the reporter's account were being forwarded to an e-mail address that the reporter did not recognize. The reporter said that other people the reporter knew in Beijing had experienced the same kind of attack, though none of the forwarding addresses were the same.

It is not known who was behind the e-mail attacks or whether the Chinese government, whose security forces sometimes closely monitor the activities of foreign journalists, had any involvement.

'We remind all members that journalists in China have been particular targets of hacker attacks in the last two years," the journalists' advocacy group, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, said in its announcement concerning the compromised Gmail accounts.

Several human rights advocates in China said last week that their Gmail accounts had been compromised, among them Ai Weiwei, an artist, and Teng Biao, a lawyer.

On Monday, a Google spokeswoman based in Asia declined to comment further on the infrastructure attacks against the company, which were still being investigated.

Reuters, meanwhile, reported that Google was investigating whether one or more employees might have helped in that cyberattack.

But people briefed on the inquiry said Google was exploring all options, and they played down the possibility that an insider could be involved in the attack. They noted that the attacks were highly sophisticated and probably would have been successful whether Google had employees in China or not.

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