Baidu: Register.com helped 'Iranian Cyber Army' commit criminal trespass

Leading China search engine Baidu's lawsuit against US domain registrar and ISP Register.com, filed yesterday, was not at all what analysts, especially in the British press, expected it to be: There's no evidence, including in the context of its many redacted paragraphs, of any sort of "retaliation" whatsoever against Google's new public stance against China in the wake of attacks against it that it claims emanated from China. Although diplomats from both countries may continue to play the Baidu case as another volley in a brewing trade dispute, from Baidu's perspective, that's not what it is at all.

Baidu's grievance is specifically against Register.com, not the country it's in; and it would probably have filed this very lawsuit had the Google attack never happened. The public portions of the initial complaint, released by US District Court in New York this morning, accuse Register.com not only of negligence in allowing its DNS records to be hacked, and Baidu traffic diverted to a Web site purportedly from the "Iranian Cyber Army" (which may not even be Iranian). Baidu goes so far as to say that Register.com "aided and abetted" whoever produces that Web site, whom Baidu refers to as the "Imposter," in the commission of what Baidu describes as trespass upon its property. Evidence of the Imposter's true identity and/or whereabouts may, based on Betanews' reading of the complaint, could very well appear within those redacted paragraphs.

The language of the complaint alleges criminal misconduct on the part of Register.com, perhaps not through direct conspiracy, but by leaving security so lax that virtually anyone -- as Baidu describes it -- could have accomplished what the Imposter did.

"Defendant wrongfully converted Baidu's proprietary and confidential account information and electronic records held in safe-keeping by Defendant, as well as Baidu's domain name baidu.com," reads the non-redacted portions of the company's complaint. "Under New York Law, Defendant's reckless and grossly negligent actions constituted tortious conversion of Baidu's property...Defendant rendered substantial assistance to the Imposter in its trespass on Baidu's property. This substantial assistance, given with reckless disregard on the Imposter's wrongful trespass, aided and abetted the Imposter in its trespass on Baidu's property."

In a statement this morning, Register.com dismissed Baidu's claim as "completely without merit." But the registrar went ahead and associated the Baidu attack with not only the Twitter attack last December (which also diverted traffic to the "Iranian Cyber Army") but to the Google attack.
Stated Register.com's Alice McGillion, "Register.com takes cyber-terrorism very seriously as we are working closely with federal law enforcement officials who are investigating this crime as well as the recent similar attacks on Twitter and Google."

The subject of search engines' respect of users' privacy and identity was a point of discussion during a policy speech this morning on "Internet Freedom" by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This despite the State Dept.'s having publicly told the press yesterday that Google and Baidu would not be mentioned during her speech. Sec. Clinton did single out the government of China, however, for having enabled a "spike in threats to the free flow of information."

"A lot of the search engines are run by private companies; they're not going to be free," Clinton told a questioner from the audience at the Newseum this morning, before adding that there are ways the US government can encourage these search engines to be more aggressively and openly respect the rights of the citizens who use them.

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