Hackers from China and Iran are engaged in a cyber dust-up after popular search engine Baidu.com was apparently attacked by the same group of Iranian government supporters who hacked Twitter.
The search engine's homepage was defaced with the message 'This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army', complete with an Iranian flag and a shattered Star of David. Internet users from across the country said they were unable to visit the site for more than four hours.
State media reported that a sentence in Farsi on the hacked homepage said: 'In reaction to the US authorities' intervention in Iran's internal affairs. This is a warning.'
Baidu spokesman Zhang Xiaoxi told the South China Morning Post the hackers changed Baidu's domain name system records from its US registrar and redirected traffic to another site.
Iranian Cyber Army was the name used by hackers who attacked Twitter last month. The micro-blogging site has become one of the key tools used by dissidents to communicate and protest against the results of last June's disputed Iranian presidential election.
Angry Chinese hackers have fought back and attacked at least eight Iranian websites.
On one Iranian government website, Chinese hackers defaced the homepage with the national flag and English sentences such as: 'We are Chinese hackers. Long live the People's Republic of China.' On another Iranian website, the main page was changed to English slogans such as 'We are Red hacker. Let the world hear the voice of China. China up.'
Abusive language was highlighted and placed on Iranian websites.
Meanwhile, Chinese living in Iran complained they were unable to visit most Chinese portals after websites allegedly denied them access, fearing further attack from Iran.
Baidu spokesman Zhang said hackers from China needed to calm down and prevent a cyber war.
The spat appears odd given the embattled Iranian regime's need for Beijing's support on a number of issues. Coverage and discussion of events in Iran has been limited in China, after propaganda authorities ordered news outlets to stick to Xinhua stories over concern that the high-tech protests may provide an example for unhappy mainlanders to follow.
A widely circulated commentary published on mainland business news website ceocio.com.cn suggested Baidu was hacked because it is an American-invested company and a symbol of the expanding economic relationship between the two countries. 'Baidu's founder and CEO Li Yanhong is a US green card holder and he started the search engine with US venture capital,' commentator Fang Hong wrote. 'More than 51 per cent of Baidu's shares are owned by US businessmen. Baidu is an unadulterated American company.'
The search engine gradually returned to normal yesterday.