Baidu claims Register.com withheld support after hack

Chinese search engine says its domain registrar was slow to answer pleas for help after its site was hacked

Chinese search engine Baidu.com was stranded without technical support from its U.S. domain registrar immediately after being hacked last week, Baidu has alleged in its lawsuit against the registrar.

An online chat representative at Register.com refused to help Baidu when contacted about the search engine's domain name routing users to another Web site instead, according to Baidu's court complaint, which was filed this week with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The complaint confirmed that visitors to Baidu.com had been taken instead to a site showing the Iranian flag, a broken Star of David and the message, "This site has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army."

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Domain services from companies like Register.com ensure users are sent to the right Web site when they type in an address like Baidu.com. Changes made to Baidu's account with the registrar disrupted the search engine's service for about five hours last week, and Baidu's operations did not fully resume for two days, the complaint said.

Baidu was also unable to reach Register.com by phone and the registrar did not start working to restore Baidu's service until two hours after first being contacted by Baidu, it said.

"The lawsuit filed by Baidu.com is completely without merit," Register.com said in an e-mailed statement earlier this week. "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."

But Baidu's complaint accuses the registrar of negligence, including through its slow response, and seeks damages for millions of dollars allegedly lost in ad revenue and other costs. It calls the service outage a "catastrophe" and refers to "gross negligence and reckless disregard of Baidu's pleas for assistance" by Register.com.

Baidu leads Google as China's top search engine and accounts for more than two-thirds of local Web searches, according to research companies.

The visible parts of Baidu's complaint, which had numerous redacted sections, did not explain how the site's domain information was altered or who was suspected of the act. But it did say Baidu was locked out of its own account after the site went down, and it accused Register.com of breaching its duty to safeguard confidential information including Baidu's user name and password.

The hack of Baidu came just one day before rival Google revealed plans to stop censoring its Chinese search engine and potentially to exit the country. Baidu's chief technology officer has since become the second high-level executive to leave the company in a month, raising further questions about the future of China's search market.

Baidu mirror site Baidu.com.cn was still working after Baidu.com went down, according to the company. The only other time the search engine has gone down was in late 2006, when it went offline for 30 minutes, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Baidu announced its lawsuit earlier this week but had given few details.

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