Chinese Government Sanctioned Cyber-terrorism?

One of our commenters, “Anon”, has posted this interesting story about how Chinese nationalists mistakenly attacked an Algerian BBS during a campaign to boycott French products last year:

RE: The Algerian BBS: It was nothing really, not a hack or any major concerted trolling. During the time when France was Public Enemy #1 (it’s really becoming hilarious how, other than the top 1-3 eternal enemies spots, the other most-hated countries are pretty much a revolving door of offenders) I saw a post somewhere (I don’t know where, Global Times, Tianya?) where somebody posted a link to a “French” board and said “hey, let’s go tell these guys what we think.” I followed the link and found some angry and/or propagandizing posts from Chinese there (either in English or obvious machine translations to French, I don’t know), but it was pretty obvious that the forum was Algerian, even though I don’t speak French. I mean, I think the Algerian flag was prominently displayed! So it was pretty obvious that they just found a French language forum at random. Not any big thing.

It is a pretty hilarious story.  I have plenty of sympathy for the Algerians, who would not have a clue what was going on.

However it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether this kind of trolling activity is in fact sanctioned by the Chinese Government. The same goes for hacking. Xinhua has just published a couple of news release to claim that the PRC government is worrying about the proliferation (and increasing popularity) of online hackers’ schools in China. Hackers are said to be responsible for 7.6 billion RMB economic loss in China last year. An incident of a hacker convicted for Internet crime has been highlighted in these Xinhua reports to demonstrate the PRC Government’s determination to curb the crime. The convicted hacker received one and a half years’ jail sentence for stealing over 7 million RMB from banks. If you ask me, I’ll say that the sentence is rather lenient for a country which is well known for imposing harsh penalty on those who commit even petty crime.

Xinhua’s issuing of the statements is probably an attempt to deflect international condemnation of the Chinese Government’s alleged involvement in a Civilian Cyber War Force called the “Red Hackers Alliance” (RHA). Here is a LINK to an article at the Strategy Page about this organisation.  Earlier, researchers in Toronto also published damning evidence of Chinese government-operated cyber-espionage networks in action.

Meanwhile another more concrete piece of evidence has just emerged to link China’s Internet filtering initiative, or the Great Fire Wall of China, directly to a type of cyber-crime known as DNS (Domain Name System) hijacking.  DNS hijacking involves converting legitimate domain names of websites into IP addresses of malicious websites using a rogue DNS server.  So when a user of an infected computer visits a  certain legitimate domain name, he is sent to a bogus website instead.  An expatriate in Shanghai published a blog post a couple of weeks ago about how he accidentally discovered this criminal practice of the GFW.  Since then, another blogger has also come forward to share his findings.

As I have advocated earlier, the most effective way for China to prove its innocence and to disassociate itself from any involvement in cyber-terrorism is to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police to apprehend (and possibly extradite) those who are involved in the hacking incident against MIFF.  This will send a really strong message to hackers in China about their Government’s determination to crack down on illegal Internet activities.  To no one’s surprise, this is not likely going to happen.  I heard from reliable sources that the AFP is not able to secure cooperation from their Chinese counterparts.  Under this country’s civil liberty legislation, the AFP only has limited authority to deal with such matter.  So the case has been transferred to our military intelligent agencies instead.  In short, the game is on.

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15 Responses to Chinese Government Sanctioned Cyber-terrorism?

  1. Benny says:

    I don’t think the Chinese government will extradite these individuals for they are an asset to them. These terrorist are doing their dirty work, They see opportunity.

    Regards.

  2. justrecently says:

    The Chinese authorities’ attitude towards hacking and the hacking schools seems to be ambiguous. According to a hacker recently quoted by Zhang Xiaozhong, a correspondent with Singapore’s United Morning News, that the Defense Science and Industry Commission and units of all big areas of command frequently publish recruitment advertisements on his website. The hacker quoted there had been suspected of cybercrimes earlier, and consequently started cooperating with the government. Somewhat like reversed spies in international intelligence. Public opinion (inasmuch as they care and as they are aware of these matters) may be very supportive of hackers, provided that the hackers are after splittist websites, rather than after the laobaixings’ money.
    Some of the ambivalence will stem from the CCP’s arbitrary approach towards judicial matters. But some of the ambivalence probably will also stem from the new technology – and its incalculability – itself.
    Would be a fascinating topic to dive into, but I’ll leave it to the experts. Maybe some of them are going to write a great book on this topic soon.

  3. C.A. Yeung says:

    Benny,

    I don’t think the AFP and the OZ military intelligent want to share their investigation with China’s national security services either. They are not keen on jeopardising some on-going operations because of this small time crook. From what I understand, these hackers are not very sophisticated and most of them are themselves rather vulnerable. If it needs to, our intelligent services guys and girls will have no problems taking care of them.

    JR,

    There are quite a bit of online information about the history of cooperation/colloboration between the RHA and the COSTIND. I don’t want to hyperlink to those sites from my blog for security reasons. However, if you google the full name of the RHA, both in Chinese and in English, you’ll be able to find these sites. Don’t forget to use a proxy when you go there.

  4. Anon says:

    If I’d known you would quote me I might’ve cleaned up my compulsive abuse of parentheses.

    Anyway, while I don’t doubt that the Chinese government has some interest in hacking, I think people who don’t have much knowledge about China are quick to blame the government because the Commies are a comfortable boogieman, and it allows them to keep up the illusion that the Chinese people are all wonderful people yearning for western freedoms- when the actual fact is that, as far as I can tell, even many Chinese people who are critical of the government (I mean, even more than me, to the point of being unfair and irrational) will do a 180 if the situation somehow pits foreigners against China, while an indeterminate (but seemingly significant) chunk of young people make the government look downright friendly. It’s an uncomfortable thing for people who want to like the Chinese people- which I honestly think is most people- to face. I hope that the online garbage I keep subjecting myself to is at least 95% hot air, because I look at 300 comments of “nuke the Australian” pigs- over a visa, for Christ’s sake- and I see an up-and-coming generation of fascists who are either going to have to be fought eventually or are going to make the world a much less free and enjoyable place to live. Hopefully they’ll all just grow up and chill out a bit.

    On a positive note, it seems that the expected protests of the MIFF were pretty weak; I mean, look at these pictures: http://news.backchina.com/2009/8/10/gb2312_52170.html They didn’t seem to muster many people, and those that turned out apparently didn’t take things seriously enough to make signs that were both 1)in a language that can reach anyone but their own and 2)spelled properly. So hopefully this tepid protest won’t do much to direct negative attention towards decent Chinese people in Australia.

  5. anonymous says:

    Either China doesn’t fear Australia’s game, or they are working something out

  6. C.A. Yeung says:

    Ferin,

    What are you talking about? Please get your grammar fixed next time.

  7. C.A. Yeung says:

    Anon,

    I feel sorry for those young Chinese students. From the pictures they don’t look enthusiastic at all.

    Last year when the Olympic torch relay was held in Canberra, several of my students from the PRC were ordered by the Chinese Consulate to fly to Canberra to help protect the “sacred flame”. They were unwilling to comply and so they begged me to re-schedule one of the tests so that they could have an excuse not to go on the trip.

  8. Conscience says:

    I caught a glimpse of those “protesting” Chinese students too. Obviously they were ordered or assigned, or even hired. It surprises me that such students overseas are also puppets of the CCP just as their motherland’s counterparts. The texts of their posters were exactly plagiarized from CCTV. I really want to know how the CCP controls Chinese in a free land.

    Here’s also a report from “the Age”:

    China’s new film threat

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/chinas-new-film-threat-20090807-ecxz.html

  9. Conscience says:

    Ha ha! It’s an ironclad fact that “the china blog” has been censoring me. I posted my comment on it just now and found it’s displayed on the board, but quickly it’s scoured! Why they fear me?

  10. Anon says:

    I also saw at least one person say they were hired on the site with the pictures, but honestly, there will always be a contingent of Chinese calling “fake” or “conspiracy” on anything… but then, even a broken clock is right twice a day, so I never know what to believe. I agree that they don’t look excited, but I also think that if they had backing, they’d probably at least be able to get the spelling and grammar right, and the embassy would probably try to put on a bigger show of force.

    I also wouldn’t read too much into the fact that their signs sound like they’re straight from CCTV. A lot of Chinese just seem piss-poor at expressing themselves in their own words, or content to fall back on cliches. Reading Chinese boards, you often see comments repeated… sometimes I think this is the result of a single person spamming their own comment, or submitting a comment multiple times before it’s processed because they think it’s been censored… but I also think that sometimes this is because some people can’t be bothered to express themselves in their own words and just copy something that they agree with.

    Who knows, though. I think it’s a mistake to write all Chinese protest off as government orchestrated- as some westerners who don’t know how genuinely sensitive Chinese people really are tend to do- but it would probably be naive to dismiss the possibility across the board.

  11. justrecently says:

    Anon: I agree with you that there is a lot of spontaneous protest. But I believe it is a result of systematic indoctrination from kindergarten onwards nevertheless. A political class like China’s could hardly stay in control without the people fearing the outside world.

  12. Conscience says:

    Oh, yeah! the “spontaneous protest” “is a result of systematic indoctrination from kindergarten onwards nevertheless”. The awareness of democracy and freedom of protest are the most basic Chinese characteristic. Such “spontaneous protest” has successfully been held by the Fenqings and their forefathers “the red guards” to protest the “American imperialism” and French anti-China force and to “boycott Japanese products”, and so on.

  13. Conscience says:

    And I saw the pictures of “protesting students” once again. Only I want to speak out is: What “a small pinch” of poor kids! Do they look like having independent political allegation or patriotic enthusiasm or indignation towards the “terrorists”? Even several of them were furtive covering up their faces behind their posters just like a thief! Stop to lose Chinese face any more! Back to your schools for “good good study, day day up”!

  14. Conscience says:

    “there will always be a contingent of Chinese calling “fake” or “conspiracy” on anything”
    —You are quite wrong! “Fake” and “conspiracy” have nothing to do with our great party-mom and its honestly and righteous patriotic youths.

    “if they had backing, they’d probably at least be able to get the spelling and grammar right”
    —The personnels of Chinese consulate failed to offer English version along with its original Chinese slogans, so some may be punished later.

    “I also wouldn’t read too much into the fact that their signs sound like they’re straight from CCTV.”
    —You are right! Their slogans are straight from their hearts! The rest of words straight from their hearts are:
    1. Hurting the feelings of the Chinese people;
    2. Western(or foreign) anti-China elements(or forces);
    3. Crowd who are ignorant of fact instigated by a small pinch of evildoers;
    4. Having ulterior motives;
    5. Rudely intervening in the internal affairs of other nation;
    6. Beating, smashing, looting and burning incident;
    ……

  15. Conscience says:

    honest and righteous patriotic youths.

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