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China Search Engine Files Suit Against US Firm

January 20, 2010

On Wednesday, AFP reported that Baidu, China’s top Internet search engine, announced it had sued a U.S. web firm after its site was hacked, which adds to the growing dispute after Google’s threat to remove its China server because of cyber attacks.

Google, which trails behind Baidu in the Chinese search engine market, said last week it is considering abandoning its Chinese search engine and leaving the country altogether because of a “higher sophisticated” attack by China-based hackers and over the state censorship.

The announcement adds to controversy into already frayed Sino-US ties, leaving Washington to call for an explanation and Beijing defending its right to filter information available on the web.

“Today Baidu filed a lawsuit against its domain name registration service provider Register.com, Inc. in a US court in New York, seeking damages over the incident of Baidu’s service interruption last week,” the Chinese firm said.

Baidu said after the January 12 attack that its site went down for hours because of a group identifying itself as the “Iranian Cyber Army”, which was the name used for the group responsible for shutting down microblogging site Twitter in December 2009.

Baidu spokesman Victor Tseng said at the time of the attacks that “due to external manipulation of its DNS (Domain Name Server) in the United States.”

Baidu’s statement Wednesday said the software behind its domain name “was unlawfully and maliciously altered” as a result of the “gross negligence” of Register.com.

This led to “users from many places around the world being unable to access the Baidu website for a number of hours and causing serious damages to Baidu.”

According to Register.com’s website, it is a leading domain registration service which manages over 2.5 million domain names.

A Baidu spokeswoman told AFP the company would not provide any further information on the lawsuit.

Internet research firm Analysys International reported Baidu scoring 58.4 percent of China’s search engine market in the final quarter last year.  Google followed with 35.6 percent.

Kaiser Kuo, a Beijing-based Internet consultant, said the timing of the suit would fuel speculation that it was in response to Google’s ultimatum.

“The suspicion will be that Baidu wants it to appear that even as its American rival was under attack from sophisticated Chinese hackers, Baidu was also suffering attacks that, though perhaps not originating in the US, were at least made possible by the negligence of an American domain name registrar,” he said.

Google said the cyber attacks against it were aimed at gaining access to Gmail account of Chinese human rights activists.  However, it said the goal was not believed to have been achieved.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the company is checking whether any of its China staff helped hackers lead the attack.

On Tuesday, Google announced it had postponed the launch of two Android based smartphones in China, which were developed in conjunction with Motorola and Samsung.

A Chinese commerce ministry spokesman said last week that the row would not affect overall trade and economic relations between the U.S. and China.

Senior U.S. diplomat Kurt Campbell said that U.S. and Chinese officials had held “multiple meetings” over the Google case, and they are planning to meet more in the coming days.

“Google’s China employees are very important to Google. We are going to have communication with the government… we want to have a positive outcome with the government,” Google spokeswoman Marsha Wang told AFP on Wednesday.

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