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Web Filtering Company Reports Cyber Attack To FBI

The U.S.-based company that claims its programming code was unlawfully included in China's Green Dam software reports being targeted by a cyber attack.

Thomas Claburn

June 29, 2009

3 Min Read

Solid Oak Software, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based maker of Web filtering software called CYBERsitter, on Friday contacted the FBI to investigate a cyber attack on the company that appears to have come from China.

Earlier this month, the company charged that the Green Dam Web filtering software, made by two Chinese companies, contains its proprietary computer code. The Chinese government wants all PCs sold in China to include Green Dam starting on July 1.

Although the U.S. government and trade organizations have asked China to rescind its Web filtering rule, Sony has already begun shipping PCs with Green Dam installed.

Jenna DiPasquale, head of public relations and marketing for Solid Oak, said that following the receipt of suspicious e-mail messages sent recently to company executives and unexplained server problems, a Microsoft representative had volunteered to analyze the suspicious e-mail for malware.

A request for comment from Microsoft, submitted through DiPasquale, was declined.

But DiPasquale confirmed that Microsoft's investigator identified the messages as malicious. "They did determine that the files were infected and that the attack was specifically created for us," she said in an e-mail. "We discovered several one-off emails similar in nature that were caught by our filters. We do not know yet for certain, but it does appear that the e-mails are Chinese in origin."

Green Dam is made by Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co, and its Web filtering black list is provided by Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy Co.

The senders of the infected messages "used spoof-name Gmail accounts to create the attacks, and the documents sent were meant to appear like a clean e-mail," DiPasquale explained. "The infected documents referenced Jinhui and Green Dam and the attacks were written using Chinese language software. This is how we suspect that they are Chinese in origin. We discovered different types of attacks caught in our defensive gateway, AlliGate."

Solid Oak president Brian Milburn believes the attacks were the work of skilled computer professionals who have knowledge of his company, according to DiPasquale.

Solid Oak, however, is not the only company under attack for its involvement with Green Dam. The English-language China Daily said last week that Jinhui had received more than 1,000 death threats since the government's filtering rule was first reported earlier this month.

After three University of Michigan researchers identified security flaws and copied code in Green Dam, the Chinese government directed the makers of Green Dam to fix the security vulnerabilities, according to a report in the English-language China Daily.

But according to a June 25 report published by Solid Oak, the most recent release of Green Dam (v3.17) still contains four files from CYBERsitter. The copied files are not merely lists of sites to be blocked, the report alleges, they also contain programming code.

"Contrary to statements made by Green Dam's developer that these were just 'lists of international pornographic sites,' the code lines shown above are code snippets that tell CYBERsitter (and Green Dam) how to handle word combinations when found in URLs, search queries, or page content," the report says.

Solid Oak has advised Dell and HP that they face legal liability if they comply with the Chinese government mandate and ship PCs with Green Dam.

The U.S. government last week lodged a formal protest of the Green Dam mandate. Chinese authorities did not respond directly. However, the Chinese Ministry of Health's decision on Friday to issue new anti-pornography rules affecting sex education sites suggests that Chinese authorities intend to resist public pressure.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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