03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Daily Mail 's Distracting ChinaHack Theory

The Daily Mail is reporting that it might be, "Chinese hackers linked to 'Warmergate' climate change leaked emails controversy."

The Mail's revelation came about after they tracked a convoluted trail of IP (Internet Protocols) addresses through to a " Chinese environmental institute, the Research Institute of Forest Ecology and Environment Protection, based near Beijing."

While it would be very cool if this was an actual break in the case of the stolen emails, the story in the Mail seems to be based on some pretty loose assumptions. The biggest hole in the Chinahack theory is pointed out in the Daily Mail story itself. A spokesperson for a Malaysian internet service company where the hackers were traced through said:

"'Because this is an open relay mail server, the emails could have been sent through it from anywhere in the world. It is just as likely to be someone outside Malaysia as someone within the country."

What the spokesperson is pointing out is that in the global network of online web services it is very difficult to trace someone's activities. Especially if that person knows how to cover their footprints. A packet of online information can easily be made to bounce around the world before arriving at its final destination.

I can be sitting here in Vancouver and route my internet actions and email through open proxy servers around the world. And it really doesn't take a master-hacker to do such things. For example, anyone can easily use an internet cloaking service to navigate anonymously around the internet, and upload files to a Russian FTP server like the one used to publicly release the stolen East Anglia University emails.

While it is definitely a useful line of investigation for the Daily Mail to trace the internet pathways behind the stolen emails, it has led to some pretty strange hypotheses by the newspaper, like: "The evidence passed to The Mail on Sunday now raises questions about whether Chinese hackers, backed by the communist regime, are the source of the emails."

Plots by the Russians in league with the Chinese makes for great headlines, but they do run the risk of drawing attention away from much more plausible theories about who is behind these criminal acts.