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Yahoo e-mail servers hacked in China

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March 31, 2010

It was reported earlier this morning that an unknown number of Yahoo e-mail addresses have been hacked in China and Taiwan in the last few days.

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And some of the emails belong to journalists, including one from The New York Times! A reporter for the newspaper, Andrew Jacobs in Beijing, said that "his Yahoo Plus account had been set, without his knowledge, to forward to another, unknown, account."

The whole thing represents a huge breach of security on the part of Yahoo, some security analysts have said.

Overall, one of the most frustrating issues about similar attacks on Google Gmail accounts in October 2009 is that the origin of the attacks was never identified.

And according to Google, it might even never be discovered who and why they did it.

It was assumed early in the incident that the attacks were done or sanctioned by the Chinese government. There have been claims that the attacks came from one or two Chinese educational institutions, but none of them have been verified or validated.

For its part, Yahoo wouldn't comment on the situation but did say it "condemns all cyberattacks and the process of trying to compromise e-mail accounts regardless of origin or purpose."

This Yahoo incident seriously underscores the problem that no email accounts run by large providers are truly secure, especially when the service is provided for free.

Worse, it may never be crystal clear if the hackers compromising the accounts are rogue software experts or agents of the Chinese government.

Security software has not been able to keep pace with hacker skills, and that imbalance may continue for some time, some Internet security experts are saying.

And if that wasn't enough, Google yesterday struggled to explain what caused mainland Chinese web users to be blocked from the search giant's new Hong Kong-based, Chinese-language search engine. After first blaming itself for a coding glitch, Google then steered blame to the Chinese government.

It was a day of confusing twists and turns that clearly display how broken the relationship between Google and China really is.

Yesterday, Google also said that its "search traffic in China is now back to normal" and "for the time being this issue seems to be resolved."

It's been about one week now since Google rocked the business world by making good on its threat to stop censoring its China-based search engine. Since then, the search giant has faced the wrath of the Chinese government, lost one of its key Chinese partners, and played a running game of cat-and-mouse with Chinese censors.

On March 29, the company said its Chinese mobile services had been partially blocked. Google initially blamed itself for a coding error -- the letters "rfa" were thought to have triggered filters for Radio Free Asia.

"Because this parameter contained the letters 'rfa' the Great Firewall was associating these searches with Radio Free Asia, a service that has been inaccessible in China for a long time -- hence the blockage," Google said.

Just a few hours later, Google backtracked and shifted responsibility to its Chinese censors, whose Web censorship operation is known as the Great Firewall of China. Google said it made the "rfa" change a week ago, so "whatever happened today to block Google.com.hk must have been as a result of a change in the Great Firewall."

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Source: UJB.

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