Washington, June 2: Internet search giant Google has said "bad actors" from China, in a sophisticated phishing attack, hacked into hundreds of Gmail accounts, including those of senior US officials and Chinese political activists.
Google has uncovered a "phishing campaign," which "appears to originate from Jinan, China" in which access was gained to Gmail user passwords and emails, its Security Team's Engineering Director Eric Grosse said in a blog post.
"Through the strength of our cloud-based security and abuse detection systems, we recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing," he said.
The "bad actors" hacked into personal Gmail accounts of hundreds of users including, senior US government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists, the US internet giant stated.
"The goal of this effort seems to have been to monitor the contents of these users' emails, with the perpetrators apparently using stolen passwords to change peoples' forwarding and delegation settings."
Grosse said: "We have notified victims and secured their accounts. In addition, we have notified relevant government authorities."
Officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Department of Homeland Security were working with Google on this issue. Pentagon spokesman Col Dave Lapan said at this point he is not aware if the targeted individuals are employees of the Department of Defence.
However, China angrily refuted any official involvement in cyber attacks and said putting all the phishing blames on it is "unacceptable."
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said: "To put all the blame on China is unacceptable. The Chinese government pay a great attention to cyber security and administer internet according to law."
"The so called statement that the Chinese government support hacker attacks is totally a fabrication out of nothing and made out of ulterior motives," he said.
Hong asserted that hacking is an international issue and China is also a victim. "Hacker attacks are an international issue and China is also a victim of it."
Google has said these account hijackings were not the result of a security problem with Gmail itself. It also urged its users to enable a two-step verification, under which Gmail uses a phone and second password on sign-in.
The search engine also listed a slew of measures that users can take to secure their email accounts.
Google has more than 200 million users for its free, Web-based Gmail email service. Last year, Google had blamed China for cyber attacks on its computer systems that partly targeted Gmail user accounts of Chinese human rights activists and some Silicon Valley-based companies. PTI