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Google breach may have led to sensitive data leaks

Chinese hackers were blamed for breaking into Google's servers in 2010; now, U.S. officials say these cyberattacks may have led to the release of secret government information.

U.S. officials are concluding that the 2010 hacks into Google's servers may have ended with Chinese hackers getting ahold of sensitive data, according to The Washington Post.

Current and former government officials told the Post that the hackers were able to access information on U.S. intelligence, as well as find out which possible Chinese spies government officials may have been targeting.

In January 2010, Google shocked the security community by being one of the first tech companies to disclose that it and other companies had been hit by attacks that originated in China. The Web giant said it discovered a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" on its corporate infrastructure that led to theft of its intellectual property. At the time, Google did not elaborate further on exactly what information was stolen.

This disclosure led to a public tit-for-tat between Google and China, as well as between the U.S. and the Chinese government. At the time, Google announced it would stop censoring its Web results in China and could end up exiting that market altogether; and the U.S. government asked China for a formal explanation regarding the cyberattacks. China rigorously denied any involvement in the hacks.

According to The Washington Post, it's still not clear how much information the hackers got, but the database they breached contained details on thousands of U.S. court orders authorizing surveillance.

"Knowing that you were subjects of an investigation allows them to take steps to destroy information, get people out of the country," one former official told the Post.

China also has been blamed for a more recent slew of cyberattacks. After The New York Times admitted in January to being the victim of a lengthy hack that it believed was propagated by the Chinese government to spy on its journalists, The Wall Street Journal, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and dozens of other companies and news sources said their sites were hacked too.

A study by Mandiant published in February linked China's People's Liberation Army to the large number of cyberattacks. And in March, the Obama administration demanded that China end its "unprecedented" campaign of cyberespionage, warning that the hacking activity threatened to derail efforts to build stronger ties between the two countries.

In May, the Pentagon published a report claiming that the Chinese government and military have been engaged in widespread cyberespionage that has targeted U.S. government and business computer networks.

"China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs," the report said.

However, as with the 2010 attacks, the Chinese government has flatly denied it is involved with any of the recent hacking or cyberespionage.

When contacted by CNET, Google declined to comment.