Baidu comes under hacker attack again

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 12:00am

The mainland's leading search engine, Baidu, appeared to have been hacked again yesterday amid the row over internet freedom between Beijing and Washington.

The result of the apparent hacking attempt was an influx of links to pornographic websites - the target of a government crackdown that many critics say is an excuse to rein in internet freedom on the mainland.

A Baidu publicity employee said yesterday the firm had received several complaints about the malfunction, but he declined to comment whether it was the work of hackers.

'We are handling this issue now and we can't confirm if this is a hacking incident,' said the employee, who refused to be named.

Pornographic websites have been a target of the mainland's Great Fire Wall censorship, which mainly blocks politically sensitive content. However, many net users can still log on to lewd websites. For several hours yesterday, some searches yielded a whole page of links with gibberish Chinese characters on the second page of the search. The first page appeared normal.

Most of the links led to dead ends but a few were connected to pornographic websites.

Separately, a search for Dongguan shebao in Romanised pinyin - which in Putonhua means Dongguan Social Security Bureau - also led to links to pornographic websites. Similarly, search results on the first page were normal, but from the second page onwards, some of the links went straight to websites with explicit sexual content.

The Southern Metropolis News reported yesterday that 27 out of the 100 results on the first 10 pages of searches carried pornographic content. The report said it was tipped off by an internet user who typed the pinyin for Dongguan shebao instead of Chinese characters.

It is unclear whether the two incidents were related. But other searches were normal in the afternoon.

Beijing has in recent years launched a crackdown on pornographic websites in what it says is an attempt to ensure 'healthy content' for mainland internet users, especially the young and underaged.

Last week, Xinhua said the authorities shut down or blocked more than 15,000 pornographic websites last year. A further 1.5 million items with vulgar content were deleted.

Google, which recently said it would consider shutting down if talks with Beijing authorities on operating unfiltered services failed, was accused twice in June last year of helping to spread obscene material on the internet.

Some users have accused the authorities of reining in internet freedom under the pretext of cracking down on pornographic and vulgar content.

On January 12, Baidu was attacked by a group of hackers that claimed to be the Iranian Cyber Army. Its homepage was defaced with the message 'This site has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army' and had an Iranian flag and a shattered Star of David. The search engine was inaccessible for more than four hours.

Cyber war

This is the second time in two weeks that Baidu has been hacked

Of the 100 results on the first 10 pages of search results, the number that were reported to have porn content was: 27