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Authorities in the United States are investigating a Google claim that hackers in China stole email details of senior U.S. government officials -- an issue that illustrates the problem of attribution in cyberspace, the coordinator for cyber issues at the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

Google disclosed Wednesday that personal Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including senior U.S. government officials, military personnel and political activists, had been breached. The company said it traced the origin of the attacks to Jinan, China, the home city of a military vocational school whose computers were linked to an assault 17 months ago on Google's systems. China has said it does not support hacking.

"The issue of attribution and knowing whether a state or non-state actors are involved is a huge problem in cybersecurity," Christopher Painter, coordinator for cyber issues for the State Department, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a cybersecurity conference in London. He declined further comment on the Google claim.

Yuan Xu of the Internet Society of China, an industry group, defended her country's actions against phishing -- the type of attack that Google says was used against its users. Phishing fools users into giving their personal details to rogue websites.

She declined to comment on the specifics of the Google case, saying she didn't know enough about it, but noted that the CNCERT -- one of China's Internet watchdogs -- regularly shares the addresses of suspected phishing websites with its international partners.

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