Google claims to have disrupted an email hijacking campaign aimed at monitoring the communications of several senior U.S. officials, military personnel, journalists, Chinese political activists, and officials in several Asian countries using stolen account login credentials.
Google has traced the operation to Jinan, China, and issued assurances that the company's systems themselves were not breached.
"We have notified victims and secured their accounts. In addition, we have notified relevant government authorities. we believe being open about these security issues helps users better protect their information online," Google's Eric Grosse said in a blog post.
Chinese officials have released statements indicating that any assertion that the Chinese government was involved with the operation is a "fabrication out of thin air."
"Any blame against China in this is groundless and with an ulterior motive. The Chinese government is firmly opposed to any cyber criminal activity, including hacking... [And] is ready to cooperate with the international community to combat against it," said Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry official Hong Lei.
The U.S. government is taking the allegations quite seriously, and reports indicate that the FBI, DHS and NSA have joined in the investigation.
"We are obviously very concerned about Google's announcement regarding a campaign that the company believes originated in China to collect the passwords of Google email account holders. Google informed the State Department of this situation yesterday in advance of its public announcement. These allegations are very serious. We take them seriously, we're looking into them," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Recent reports link Chinese hackers to a multitude of operations directed at government and private enterprise targets, including:
The largest and perhaps most damaging operation in recent years were the Aurora attacks which targeted an unknown number of large firms, including Adobe, Northrop Grumman, Dow Chemical, Morgan Stanley, and most famously Google.
"The attacks coming out of China are not only continuing, they are accelerating," the director of research at the SANS Institute, Alan Paller said in April.