News

January 18, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Google e-mail accounts of foreign reporters hacked, sources endangered


Reporters Without Borders is deeply disturbed and outraged by cyber-attacks on the Google E-mail accounts of several Beijing-based foreign journalists. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) sent its members a note today alerting them that at least two foreign news bureaux in Beijing have been the target of attacks by hackers.

The warning follows Google’s revelation that the Gmail accounts of several dozen Chinese human rights activists were the target of sophisticated attacks in December.

“The hackers who targeted foreign journalists based in Beijing were probably trying to get contact details and information about the human rights activists who talk to the international press,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Compromising these reporters’ communication methods endangers and intimidates their sources and constitutes a serious violation of their privacy, their professional work and their freedom to provide news and information.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We firmly condemn these attacks and we call on the ministry of industry and information technology to provide an explanation.”

A Beijing-based journalist whose account was hacked told Reporters Without Borders told Reporters Without Borders that his emails were being forwarded to another, unknown account. “I have the feeling that my privacy has been violated,” he told Reporters Without Borders on condition of anonymity. “And so many people have been put in danger by these leaks, it’s terrible.”

Last week several human rights activists including artist Ai Weiwei and lawyer Teng Biao said they had been the victim of similar cyber-attacks.

The FCCC asked its members to let it know if they have been hacked and advised them to be careful about the links they click on and to ensure their computers are protected against viruses and spyware. To find out whether a Gmail account has been compromised, the FCCC advises its members to:
- Log on to their account
- Click on Settings in the upper right of the screen, and then on Forwarding and POP/IMAP
- And then verify that no unknown email address appears (if it does, they may well have been hacked).

A Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents on the Reporters Without Borders website offers practical advice and techniques to help Internet users to maintain their anonymity and circumvent censorship, identifying the method that is best adapted for each situation.

Google announced on 12 January that it plans to stop censoring the Chinese version of its search engine even if that means it has to withdraw from the Chinese market. It said it reached this decision after discovering that the Google Mail accounts of dozens of human rights activists had been attacked.

The US Internet giant is now reportedly negotiating the future of its presence in China with the Chinese authorities. Yahoo! condemned the attacks and voiced its support for its rival, to the dismay of its local partner, Alibaba, but Microsoft has minimised their importance and has firmly announced its intention to stay in the Chinese market.

Reporters Without Borders regrets the fact that these leading Internet sector companies, above all Microsoft, have let slip an opportunity to show a united front towards the Chinese and to try together to roll back censorship.

Reporters Without Borders also reiterates its support for the Global Online Freedom Act, a bill submitted to the US Congress by Representative Chris Smith that that would prevent US Internet companies from being forced to collaborate with Internet censors in repressive countries.