Hackers in China

The Chinese government doesn’t like it at all when its citizens mess with China’s Internet. But abusing foreign sites (especially Japan’s) is fair game. This is an interesting look at blatantly double standards.

The plundering of western technology, business and government databases by Chinese hackers is a sign of Beijing’s double standards towards the development of the internet, experts say.

According to a spokesman at the Chinese embassy in London, hacking is a crime punishable by death. But Peter Tippett, of CyberTrust, an organisation that collects global information on the activities of hacking groups, says that last year, the 80-strong X-Focus hacking group was able to hold a conference in the Chinese capital. Called X-Con, the conference discussed coordinating attacks on Japanese websites during the row between the two countries over the content of school history books in Japan.

As Tippett observes: “In China, the people who hack have to get through the Great Firewall of China and all email must go through government email filters. Yet at the moment we are finding that the vast majority of computer attacks are coming from China.”

Inside China, the picture is very different. The country may have 120 million people online at the start of the year – second only to the US – but they are not allowed to see sensitive political information about events in their own country.

Indeed, misuse of the internet – disseminating information about political unrest, for example – is routinely punished by the authorities. In 2004, an Amnesty International report noted that “there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people detained or sentenced for internet-related offences, an increase of 60% as compared to the previous year’s figures”.

This was the piece de resistance:

Indeed, there are rumours of an exclusive club formed in Guangdong – where much of the hacking is thought to be centred – whose membership is restricted to those business people who have successfully ripped off a western company. Though probably apocryphal, the story does reflect a strand of thought inside China: that stealing a march on foreigners – and especially rich western foreigners – is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Like the CIA never did the same.

January 27, 2006 @ 7:21 am | Comment

Actually, no.

On more than several occasions the government has issued orders against reverse tracerouting back into China web space. And even if in the unlikelihood that the intrusion happened, the CIA does not actually do the hacking themselves either, they mostly do intelligence analysis and gathering through more conventional means. Notwithstanding these points, it still does not make sense for the U.S. to gather meaningful intelligence on China through the Internet anyways. China, after all, only recently began to introduce — what little of government interfaces existing — to open net. Remember, most of the argument is based on the assumption that China wants advanced technological knowledge possessed by America stored on computers, while U.S. seeks more traditional geo-spatial signals that ‘hacking’ is poorly suited for.

January 27, 2006 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

A yes, the famous “China’s not the only one who’s evil so it’s okay” defense. That’s my favorite.

January 28, 2006 @ 5:31 pm | Comment

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