Chinese schools deny links to Google attacks

A university and a vocational school dispute a Thursday New York Times report that hacks on Google and other Silicon Valley companies can be traced back to their computers.

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Leslie Katz
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Two days after a New York Times report linked two Chinese schools to hack attacks on Google and other Silicon Valley companies, both schools are denying those claims.

Security experts traced the attacks to computers at Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School, The New York Times reported Thursday. But on Saturday, according to the Associated Press, China's official Xinhua News Agency cited a representative of the university calling the accusations "baseless" and an official from the vocational school saying its investigation turned up no evidence the intrusions originated on school machines.

Shanghai Jiaotong University is known for its computer science program. The Lanxiang Vocational School was established with military support, according to the Times, and trains computer scientists for the military.

Google announced January 12 that e-mail accounts belonging to human rights activists in China had been compromised in "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack" probably originating in China. The company said it discovered the attacks in mid-December.

The revelations led the search giant to announce that it would stop censoring search results in China and possibly back out of the Chinese market altogether--a proclamation that underscored the troubled history, and uncertain future, for Internet companies doing business in China.

After warning of strained U.S.-China relations, China denied involvement in the attacks, and investigations by experts including the National Security Agency have only led to servers in Taiwan, the Times says. Findings implicating the Chinese schools in the intrusions could be a breakthrough in the case, though they don't automatically mean the attacks came from the Chinese government (sources have said it is typically difficult to find evidence specifically leading back to Chinese officials in computer attacks)--or even from Chinese sources.

Li Zixiang, the Communist party official speaking for Lanxiang school, disputed the Times report that evidence linked the attacks to a specific computer science class taught by a Ukrainian. "We have never employed any foreign staff," Xinhua quoted Li as saying. Another school official challenged the Times' statement that Lanxiang has close ties to the military, saying that students may join the military after graduating but are not required to.