A Chinese flag flies in front of Google's office in Beijing. The Chinese… (Keith Bedford, Bloomberg )
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. government was investigating a hacker attack on personal Google email accounts used by senior government officials, as well as members of the military, political activists and journalists.
Google Inc. disclosed the attack on its Gmail email service Wednesday, saying it appeared to have originated in China and affected hundreds of people.
"We are obviously very concerned about Google's announcement," Clinton said Thursday at a news conference. "These allegations are very serious."
She said the FBI would conduct an investigation into the breaches.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama had been made aware of the attacks. But Carney added that there was no reason to believe that any official U.S. government email accounts had been accessed by the hackers.
Carney said that government officials are permitted to have personal email accounts, but not allowed to use them in any official capacities.
"All of our work is conducted on work email accounts," Carney said at a news briefing. "That's part of the Presidential Records Act."
Google has not publicly disclosed the names of the people whose email accounts may have been exposed during the attack. The company said that they had notified them of the breech.
A Department of Defense spokeswoman said the agency was not sure if any of the victims of the cyber attack were DOD employees.
"As the breach involved Gmail," said Lt. Col. April Cunningham, "since those are not official DOD email accounts, we are unaware if the targeted individuals are Defense employees."
Also on Thursday, the Chinese government — which has long been at odds with Google over censorship and other issues — said it had nothing to do with the attack.
"Allegations that the Chinese government supports hacking activities are completely unfounded and made with ulterior motives," said Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, according to news reports in China.
Hong said the Chinese government was firmly opposed to activities that sabotage Internet and computer security, including hacking.
Google was the victim of a major cyber attack in 2009 that the company said originated in China. The more recent attack was not only far smaller in scope, security experts said, but also less sophisticated.