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London - China is feared to have been behind a massive hacking attack on Twitter that gained access to 250,000 private accounts.
The social media company was assessing the full scale of the attack over the weekend - but fears that the hackers may have stolen user names, email addresses and encrypted passwords belonging to all those affected.
In recent days American newspapers The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have also revealed that they have been the targets of sophisticated ‘cyber-attacks’.
And there are growing fears that the Government of China sponsors hackers who work to discover not only the trade secrets of Western companies, but also discover details of critical journalists, Chinese dissidents, and delve into national defence and infrastructure systems.
Beijing spokesmen deny endorsing any computer hacking but companies falling victims to serious attacks repeatedly say they appear to originate in China.
Twitter’s director of information security, Bob Lord, said over the weekend that the massive attack on the social media network ‘was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident’.
Lord went on: ‘The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked.
‘For that reason we felt that it was important to publicise this attack while we still gather information, and we are helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.’
Experts said the assault on Twitter could have begun with a single Twitter employee’s computer being infiltrated through well-publicised weaknesses in the Java computer language. It would then have spread through the company network.
Although Twitter is generally used to publish messages for all the world to see, hacking could enable Chinese agents to discover the true identity of people posting under pseudonyms, or locate where they are posting from.
A strong warning of the dangers posed by Chinese hackers comes in a forthcoming book by the executive chairman of internet giant Google, Eric Schmidt, who writes in The Digital Age that Beijing-based cybercrime is a global ‘menace’.
The tightly controlled country is the most ‘sophisticated and prolific’ hacker on earth, he says - with Western countries restricted by laws and privacy concerns that discourage hacking.
Growing sales of Chinese computer technology around the globe are also making hacking by the country’s employees and residents easier by the day, he suggests.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal both suggested the recent cyberattacks they had fallen victim to involved attempts to spy on journalists monitoring China.
The Bloomberg financial news service is also said to have been hacked immediately after running a story about the fortunes amassed by relatives of China’s probably president-to-be in March Xi Jinping.
China is obsessed with its own cyber-security, and does its best to prevent free access to the rest of the world wide web - fearing the social media could spark Arab Spring-style calls for democracy, and endanger the Communist Party’s iron grip on power.
Twitter and Facebook are banned there, and on Weibo, China’s own version of Twitter, there are said to be 1,000 censors employed full time to delete as many as 10 million politically dangerous messages a day.
Another 300,000 volunteers are said to be paid 4p a post to spread positive propaganda about the Communist Party.
British and American intelligence agencies are anxiously hiring their own computer experts in a bid to build up defences, and devise potential counter-attacks, against ruthless foreign hackers.
Experts say Western military attacks could in future lead to retaliation not on the battlefield, but in computer assaults on the National Grid or on water supply systems. - Daily Mail