Google Inc has said it identified cyber attacks aimed at silencing opposition to a Vietnamese government-led bauxite mining project involving a major Chinese firm, and said they were similar to those at the heart of the company's friction with Beijing.
The computer security firm McAfee Inc, which detected the malware, went a step further, saying its creators may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.
The malware infected potentially tens of thousands of users who downloaded what they thought was Vietnamese keyboard software, and possibly other software, Neel Mehta of Google's security team said in a post Tuesday on the firm's online security blog (googleonlinesecurity.blogspot.com).
These infected machines have been used both to spy on their owners as well as participate in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against blogs containing messages of political dissent, Mehta wrote. DDoS attacks make websites inaccessible.
Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an important and emotionally charged issue in the country.
In China, some journalists said their Yahoo email accounts and those of other users whose work relates to China were compromised in an attack discovered this week.
In January, Google cited attacks on the G-mail accounts of human rights activists and journalists, a hacking attack on it and more than 20 other firms, and censorship concerns, in its decision to move its Chinese-language search services to Hong Kong.
Mehta said the Vietnamese attacks were less sophisticated, but, like the Chinese attacks, were examples of malicious software being used for political ends.
Internet use has exploded in Vietnam, and about a quarter of the population of 86 million now surf the Internet, according to the Ministry of Information and Communications.
The Vietnamese government has been pressing ahead with plans to mine and process bauxite in the Central Highlands region in partnership with Chalco, a subsidiary of China's state-run aluminum firm Chinalco, sparking a chorus of opposition.
Vietnamese are deeply suspicious of China after centuries of tense relations, wars and territorial skirmishes, and opponents of the bauxite plan feel it is imprudent to involve China in a region many consider strategically important. Many are also concerned about possible environmental damage.
State media reported earlier this week that about 1,000 Vietnamese websites fell victim to cyber attacks last year, double the number in 2008.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)