Chinese Hackers

Posted: November 5, 2009 in Internet, Trends
Tags: , ,

Chinese Hackers

Let me start this article with a few excerpts from the Popular Science article Hackers: The China Syndrome.

  • For years, the U.S. intelligence community worried that China’s government was attacking our cyber-infrastructure. Now one man has discovered it’s worse: It’s hundreds of thousands of everyday civilians. And they’ve only just begun.
  • By the time the offensive [on American websites by (primarily) Chinese hackers] was over, Chinese hackers had felled 1,000 American sites.
    • An excerpt from an article referenced in Hackers: The China Syndrome called The First World Hacker War: ”We’ve achieved our goal,” the leader of Honkers Union said in one Chinese newspaper. ”It’s time for it to end.”
    • In the past two years, Chinese hackers have intercepted critical NASA files, breached the computer system in a sensitive Commerce Department bureau, and launched assaults on the Save Darfur Coalition, pro-Tibet groups and CNN. And those are just the attacks that have been publicly acknowledged.
    • The problem, of course, is that it’s practically impossible for the FBI to catch or prosecute hackers operating abroad. “The international legal framework doesn’t exist,” says the CSIS’s Lewis. And extraditing a hacker to the U.S. simply doesn’t happen, given our current relationship with China. Learning to defend ourselves seems to be the only option.
    • Chinese hackers, it turns out, take credit on their own sites for attacks, leaving a long trail of documentation.
    • Monitoring a cross-section of sites over several days to estimate the number of people logged in at any given time, he [Scott Henderson] came up with 380,000 hackers.
    • In a 2005 Hong Kong Sunday Morning Post article, a man identified as “the Godfather of hackers” explains, “Unlike our Western [hacker] counterparts, most of whom are individualists or anarchists, Chinese hackers tend to get more involved with politics because most of them are young, passionate, and patriotic.” Nationalism is hip, and hackers — who spearhead nationalist campaigns with just a laptop and an Internet connection — are figures to revere.
    • …the Chinese government tends not to prosecute hackers unless they attack within China…that lack of supervision is tacit approval, and it constitutes a de facto partnership between civilian hackers and the Chinese government.
    • The government at a minimum tolerates them. Sometimes it encourages them. And sometimes it tasks them and controls them.” In the end, he says, “it’s easy for the government to turn on and hard to turn off.”
    • “These rogue groups are missing oversight,” Henderson says. “When a situation is approaching critical mass” — if, for instance, these hackers decide to abandon simple vandalism and start gunning for Social Security numbers or classified information — “who’s the guy who pulls back and says, ‘No, we don’t go any further’?
    • If we can’t handle the information Chinese hackers are leaving now, scarier still is what could happen when it disappears.

Interesting, isn’t it? I’m afraid that I messed up the order of these excerpts, but those excerpts are a general summation of this great article on Chinese hackers.


The massive attack that took place from May 4th and lasted a few weeks preformed by mainly Chinese hackers was not the first attack that Chinese hackers had performed on U.S websites, but it was by far the biggest. By the time this attack was finished hackers from India, Saudi Arabia and Argentina had joined in with Chinese hackers in a massive movement that could have crippled this nation. The government raised its Infocon level fearing an outright cyber assault. The attack that felled a reported 1,000+ U.S websites including and other government websites was sparked when a U.S plane and a Chinese plan collided. The American pilot landed safely, but the Chinese pilot was unfortunately killed.

Now before I go on I want you to understand something about Chinese hackers. In a report from the Hong Knog Sunday Post in 2005 a man described as “the Godfather of Hackers” explains, “Unlike our Western [Hacker] counterparts, most of whom are individualists or anarchists, Chinese hackers tend to get more involved with politics because most of them are young, passionate, and patriotic.” Nationalism is cool in China, and with a laptop and an internet connection you can become the equivalent of a rockstar. That’s what spurs on movements like this, something many call Hacktivism. They are activists that use their skills in hacking to be politically active. And for them, they don’t have to worry about being prosecuted; China is the perfect country for hackers.

This is why the unfortunate plane collision sparked outrage among the Chinese, especially the hacker community and they lashed out. This outlash was the parent of the massive attack I mention before. The attack consisted of mostly defacements of various websites, especially government websites, but the attackers could have easily aimed higher. The scary thing though was the words of the leader of the Chinese hacker group Honkers Union: “We’ve achieved our goal. It’s time for it to end.”

Why is this scary? This was the leader of a hacker group; his group decided that this was enough, so they stopped. What if they hadn’t stopped? What if they decided that this wasn’t enough, that they wanted to make us literally pay, they could have stolen sensitive data, especially the often undergaurded credit card numbers. Maybe the other Chinese hacker groups followed their example, or maybe those other groups ended on their own time, but the thing is, nobody can control any of these hackers, least of all the Chinese government.  They’re doing anything about it, their policy up to this point, as I’m sure it will continue to be, had been “As long as you don’t hack a Chinese computer, you’re probably safe from prosecution.” That leaves almost the whole world open, especially America. Unlike in America, hackers in China freely take credit for their hacker work; they don’t have to fear punishment from their government. They are looked upon as the American equivalent of a rockstar, they’re teen idols in China. That’s just how it is.

Chinese hackers usually operate alone or within small groups, but as demonstrated in what the New York Times dubbed as “The First world Hacker war” they will band together to attack a common target, and there isn’t much, if anything at all, that we can do to stop this force. Take, for example, the Chinese hacker group Red Army. Their leader publicly takes credit for his and his groups actions, and faces no prosecution. His group of more than 3,000 hackers can give you an idea on the massiveness of some of these groups. 3,000 hackers, that’s massive. All in one group, and for the most part united in their actions.

In the First World Hacker War a reported 1,000 U.S websites were taken down by mostly Chinese hackers, but were joined by Indian, Saudi Arabian, and Argentinean hackers before the attack was over. This 1,000 website number on a whole this number was much larger though. To grasp this number you must realize that the unreported American hacker community’s backlash to these defacements of American websites that must have gone on went unreported or even unknown to the public, and it was surely a massive hack conducted by many. So you see, the overall number of websites hacked in result of this massive Chinese attack would have surely been more than the publicized number.

  1. sarah says:

    Haha, I love that issue of Popular Science. I’m using it for a report in tech. 🙂

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