Journalists and activists working in China and Taiwan report that their Yahoo accounts have been disabled after hackers gained access last Wednesday. They believe information from their accounts may have been downloaded for further scrutiny. The New York Times, Andrew Jacobs also reported that a mail forwarding service was secretly activated on his account, this would have allowed the hackers to read future correspondence by forwarding his emails.
The cyberattacks mirror the hacking campaign which cause Google to announce it was pulling out of China and add to the pressure on Yahoo to take a stand on Chinese freedom of expression record.
In a response to Reuters, Yahoo spokesperson Dana Lengkeek did not comment on the nature of the attacks, but simply defended the company’s position to protect “user security and privacy”. On Twitter Kathleen MacLaughlin, another journalist targeted in the attack, said that she was “annoyed” with the “deafening silence from Yahoo”. The company had refused to disclose any information regarding the attacks on her account.
Unlike Google, Yahoo keeps its servers inside mainland China, this means the government has more jurisdiction and control over its operations. This feature was pivotal in the arrest of Chinese journalist Shi Tao in 2004, in which sensitive government documents about the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Protests was emailed from his private Yahoo account to an overseas human rights group. Upon the Chinese government’s request, Yahoo immediately turned over Shi Tao’s account information, his IP address, as well as the physical address of the computer which the email was sent from. Cases such as this, and Yahoo’s unquestioning complicity with China’s censoring of their search engine results have lead to several internet campaigns calling for web users to boycott Yahoo.
A Guardian report last Friday, included details of leaked Chinese documents outlined new state press guidelines regarding the treatment of future incidents relating to Google and the internet. Therefore, it is of no surprise to find that as of today, neither Xinhua or China Daily have covered this current Yahoo story on any of their English or Chinese-language websites.