White House
White House Reuters

Since search-giant Google confirmed a recent attack on its Gmail service, speculation about a possible security breach to the U.S. Government's network has arisen, with the Chinese Government once again being suspected of coordinating the cyber attack.

The original attack

The original attack, while speculated to have happened months ago, was only confirmed by Google earlier this week.

The cyber attack reportedly made use of malware and phishing techniques. Google described the attack as a deliberate attempt to gain access to the Gmail accounts of several U.S. Government officials, journalists and public opponents of the Chinese Government.

Why China are suspected

Google has confirmed that it traced the attack to the Shandong Province in central China. Specifically Google has stated that the hack originated from the province's capital Jinan.

The latest hack attempt on Google is not the first time the Shandong Province has attracted negative attention. Shandong is the same province the company traced as the origin point of a previous cyber attack on its computer systems back in 2009. It is also the location of the 2010 cyber attack that targeted Google's source code.

Further to this, the Jinan city is home to one of the People's Liberation Army's six technical reconnaissance bureaus and a technical college that is commonly suspected of playing a role in 2009's attack on Google.

Since the 2009 attack Google has had at best a rocky relationship with China. It subsequently ended its censorship deal with the Chinese Government and moved its Chinese-Language site from the country's mainland to Hong Kong.

The revelation that the latest hack attempt once again stemmed from the province has only served to heighten tensions between Google and China. While the company has not explicitly blamed the Chinese Government in public, it has been more than willing to highlight the fact that this isn't the first time it has had problems with hackers in the province.

Why there is concern about U.S. security

The reason there is concern about a possible U.S. security breach, stems from the fact that the attack targeted U.S. Government officials personal Gmail accounts.

While this isn't nearly as bad as if the official's work accounts were hacked, it does create concern over the question of whether those targeted "talked shop" in their personal correspondence.

As yet no officials have come forward confirming whether they did or didn't use their Gmail accounts to discuss work topics -- meaning that currently any reporting of a security leak is at best speculative.

Despite this the U.S. has reportedly mounted an investigation. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on Thursday commenting, "We are obviously very concerned about Google's announcement regarding a campaign that the company believes originated in China to collect the passwords of Google email account holders.

"Google informed the State Department of this situation yesterday in advance of its public announcement. These allegations are very serious. We take them seriously, we're looking into them".

Already the FBI have been called in and are conducting an investigation.

What China say

Since the attack and suspicion once again fell on China, the Chinese Government has taken an aggressive stance, vehemently denying any involvement and calling any claims to the contrary "unacceptable".

Speaking at a press conference Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, commented to reporters, "Hacking attacks are an international issue. China is also a victim.

"The so-called statement that the Chinese government supports hacking attacks is a total fabrication out of nothing. It has ulterior motives."