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The United States has asked Beijing to investigate reports that China interfered with Internet content hosted outside the country and used it to attack U.S. websites, the State Department said on Friday.

"We are concerned by reports that China has used a new cyber capability to interfere with the ability of worldwide Internet users to access content hosted outside of China," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

"The cyber attack manipulated international web traffic intended for one of China's biggest web services companies and turned it into malicious traffic directed at U.S. sites," Rathke told a news briefing. He said the United States has asked Chinese authorities to investigate the cyber attack and advise Washington of the results.

China's "Great Cannon" is a distinct cyber attack tool that hijacks traffic to or from individual IP addresses and allows China to target "any foreign computer that communicates with any China-based website," according to an analysis from information technology research group Citizen Lab of Toronto.

The United States continues to work with "all willing partners" to enhance cyber security and "promote norms of acceptable state behavior," he said. Asked about reports of increasing media censorship by Chinese authorities, Rathke said, "The United States is committed to protecting the Internet as an open platform ... free from censorship and interference."

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--- Reuters