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China general urges new Internet control agency

A Chinese flag flies over the company logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing on January 14, 2010.

LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images

A Chinese major general has called for a new national body to enforce Internet controls, while China faced fresh claims on Monday about the source of hacking attacks that hit search giant Google.

People's Liberation Army Major General Huang Yongyin said China needed to keep pace with the efforts of other big powers to fight online infiltration and attacks.

"For national security, the Internet has already become a new battlefield without gunpowder," Huang wrote in the February issue of Chinese Cadres Tribune, a magazine published by the Communist Party's influential Central Party School.

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In January, the giant Internet search engine company, Google, threatened to pull back from China over complaints of censorship and sophisticated hacking from within China.

Huang's comments appeared after Western media reports said a vocational school whose graduates include military recruits was one source of the hacker attack on Google.

The reports said the author of spyware used in the assault had government ties.

U.S. government analysts believe the program's creator is a Chinese security consultant in his 30s who posted parts of the code on a hacker forum and described it as something he was "working on", the Financial Times reported on Monday.

He works as a freelancer and did not launch the attack but Chinese officials had "special access" to his programming, the paper added, quoting a single, unnamed government researcher.

"If he wants to do the research he's good at, he has to toe the line now and again," the researcher was quoted saying.

The allegations over the spyware are the latest episode in a dispute that has pitted Google and the United States against China, with its wall of Internet controls and legions of hackers.

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Washington has backed Google's criticisms and urged Beijing to investigate hacking complaints thoroughly and transparently. Beijing has said it opposes hacking.

Huang's comments underscore the influential currents within the Chinese government that see the Internet as a key security concern.

"Lawless elements and hostile forces at home and abroad have increasingly turned to the Internet to engage in crime, disruption, infiltration, reactionary propaganda and other sabotage activities," wrote Huang, who appears to play no direct role in China's online policy.

The magazine was dated Feb. 6, but arrived with subscribers on Monday, after China's Lunar New Year holiday.

The government needs to surmount the fragmented control of the Internet to confront these problems, preferably with a national administrative system, Huang said.

Over a dozen ministries and agencies have a hand in enforcing the Chinese government's Internet policies. Huang called for China to reduce its reliance on foreign technology which is vulnerable to attacks by "hostile forces abroad".

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His concerns are matched by worries overseas about attacks from within China.

The Financial Times report quoted unidentified sources backing an earlier claim in the New York Times that analysts had traced the online attacks to two Chinese colleges, Jiaotong University in Shanghai and the Lanxiang vocational school.

The two schools denied the reports on the weekend.

Jiaotong University attracts top graduates and has a School of Information Security Engineering. It said in a statement sent to Reuters on Monday it was "shocked" by the New York Times report, calling it "totally unfounded".

"If Google believes it needs to seek a legal remedy, this school is willing to actively co-operate with an investigation by the relevant parties to clear up the facts," the university said.

Allegations that Lanxiang, a high-school level institute that also trains hairdressers, chefs and car mechanics, could take on Google have been mocked widely in Chinese cyberspace.

"How can these future cooks be such powerful hackers?" a web user from Zhejiang province said on the portal

Lanxiang's website also boasts it has the "biggest" computer lab in the world.

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