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China blamed for Gmail hacking

Google is blaming computer hackers in China for a high-tech ruse that broke into the personal Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including senior US government officials, military personnel and political activists.

The breach marks the second time in 17 months that Google has publicly identified China as the home base for a scheme aimed at hijacking information stored on Google's vast network of computers.

This round of attacks is not believed to be tied to a more sophisticated assault originating from China in late 2009 and early last year.

That intrusion went after some of Google's trade secrets and triggered a high-profile battle with China's Communist government over online censorship that has made it more difficult for the company to do business in the world's most populous country.

The latest duplicity appeared to rely on so-called "phishing" scams and other underhanded behaviour that hackers frequently use to obtain passwords from people and websites that are not vigilant about protecting the information.

Google credited its own security measures for detecting and disrupting the intrusions. All the victims have been notified and their Gmail accounts secured, according to the company.

Mila Parkour, a security researcher who helped alert Google to the Gmail breach, said the attacks had been occurring for at least a year before they were finally uncovered.

"It was persistent and bold," Ms Parkour said of the hacking scheme. Ms Parkour first shared her suspicions about the breach in a February 17 post on her Contagio blog.

Google would not say what parts of the US government were targeted or whether any confidential information may have been contained in the trespassed Gmail accounts.

Besides senior government officials, other people whose Gmail accounts were infiltrated included Chinese political activists, military personnel, journalists and officials in other countries, mainly in South Korea.

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