SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The Chinese government is working with domestic Internet search engines like Baidu Inc and Sohu.com and financial institutions to prevent phishing attacks on unsuspecting Chinese web users.
The Ministry of Public Security said on Friday it would work with 10 Chinese search engines to protect the website rankings of financial institutions to lessen the chances that Internet users will be duped by phishing websites.
A phishing attack occurs when the user is persuaded to part with his or her username and password via a fake webpage that closely resembles the original.
Through the collaboration, the official websites of several Chinese banks, such as Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank will be ranked first in the search engine when a user searches for the related keywords, reducing the risk of such attacks, the Ministry said in an online circular on Friday.
The move comes after China urged tighter Internet security on Wednesday following a spate of personal data leaks that alarmed the online community and prompted calls for tougher scrutiny of who has access to online information.
On Thursday, the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department confirmed a technical vulnerability on the website of the Division of Exit and Entry Administrative Department of Public Security for Guangdong had left the personal data of 4.4 million users exposed.
According to Chinese media, the loophole was first reported by a microblogger on Thursday and has been around since June this year.
The province's public security department said the loophole had been fixed.
China claims the most Internet users in the world at 485 million, state media reported last month. Despite widespread censorship and monitoring online, many users have been up in arms about the reported data leaks and their implications.
The user IDs, passwords and email addresses of more than 6 million accounts registered on CSDN -- a site for programmers -- were leaked, Xinhua news agency reported last week, citing an anti-virus software provider that discovered the problem. The popular social-networking site Tianya was also hit.
The Global Times newspaper on Friday described the state of Internet security in China as "very dangerous," saying the leaks had "struck Chinese society's alarm bells."
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on Wednesday it would investigate the hacking incidents.
"The department believes the recent leak of user information is a serious infringement of the rights of Internet users and threatens Internet safety. The department strongly condemns such behavior," the ministry said in the statement.
China is widely suspected of being the origin of many hacking attacks on government and commercial websites abroad, but officials have repeatedly dismissed reports that the government or military could be behind such attacks.
China bans numerous overseas websites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and some foreign media outlets, fearing the uncensored sharing of images and information could cause social instability and harm national security.
(Reporting By Sisi Tang in HONG KONG and Melanie Lee in SHANGHAI; Editing by Chris Lewis and Paul Tait)