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CNN reporter dives into the world of the Chinese hacking underground

“No website is 100% safe,” says Chen Xiao, member of a team of hackers that operate from a bare apartment just off the coast of Shanghai.

“There are websites with high-level security, but there is always a weakness,” adds Chen.

Pensive about his actual identity, Chen and his two colleagues belong to what some are calling a Chinese “civilian cyber militia,” attacking government and private websites around the world for fun and, occasionally, profit.

In a secret meeting with CNN correspondent John Vause, Chen showed the reporter around his apartment and demonstrated how Chan and his group do their business. The meeting was set up after weeks of “on-again, off-again e-mail exchanges.” When Chen finally agreed, “CNN was told to meet them on the island of Zhoushan, just south of Shanghai and a major port for China’s navy.”

Chen also runs an online community that sports more than 10,000 registered users, providing hacking articles, tools, news, and flash tutorials. He claims the website has been in operation for more than three years.

“There is a saying,” says Chen, “’Know about both yourself and the enemy, and you will be invincible.'”

Many now look to China as the biggest source of the world’s cybercrime, with a December 2007 report from McAffee calling the internet a front for “the next Cold War” as a new black market emerges for hacking tools and information. When the Chinese military was suspected to be hacking into Pentagon computers around June of last year, Beijing called the accusations “groundless” and accused U.S. officials of having a “Cold War mentality.”

Chen claims that he and his associates have hacked into some of the most prolific and secretive web sites in the world, including internal sites for the Pentagon. While he could not provide proof to back up these claims, he did admit that his associates were paid after-the-fact by the Chinese government for information gleaned from the Pentagon attack.

“I am telling you honestly, the Chinese government does not do such a thing,” said Chinese official Gang Qin, responding to Chen’s allegations.

James Mulvenon, who works for the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, called Chen and his ilk “useful idiots for the Beijing regime,” noting that they are tolerated provided they “do not conduct attacks inside of China.”

Government entities aren't the only targets of hackers these days. 2007 was a banner year for cyber hackers with regards to personal information. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and non-profit groups, there were over 79 million reports of compromised personal data records for 2007 according to the ITRC -- this compares to roughly 20 million reports during all of 2006.

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This is a joke!
By mcmilljb on 3/7/2008 9:29:59 PM , Rating: -1
CNN finding a Chinese hacker?(I doubt they could find even an American hacker) Oh Please! This is some BS. They were probably "hacking" on 56K modems, lol. Chinese hackers are in the military, so this is someone just pretending to be a "hacker". They could not even provide proof! They need to stick to email scams. Oh wait, this is one.

RE: This is a joke!
By zaki on 3/7/2008 9:52:46 PM , Rating: 2
oh yeah, you must really be the source for all this info!

cnn should just interview you next time.

RE: This is a joke!
By mxnerd on 3/8/2008 2:43:28 AM , Rating: 5
Don't ever underestimate Chinese hackers. Actually, you will be stunned to find that Chinese is catching up very fast in every area, and they outnumber U.S. population by 4x.

A lot of people are still poor, but they have a lot of smart & rich people, too. And while U.S. economy is in recession, China is still booming. Even troubled CitiBank wanted to borrow money from China.

And don't you know they are already planning landing on the moon?

RE: This is a joke!
By mcmilljb on 3/8/2008 9:08:18 PM , Rating: 2
Who cares if there is 4x times the US population? Most of the population doesn't even own a computer. China is too busy trying to steal info because they cannot create it. If china hackers are so good, why aren't we hearing stories everyday? These guys in the story are fakes. I'd put my money on European hackers before Chinese hackers. The economy is not an issue with how good these hackers are. Hell the US went to the moon multiple times and with less technology.

RE: This is a joke!
By AlphaVirus on 3/10/2008 1:44:25 PM , Rating: 2
why aren't we hearing stories everyday?

If by 'we' you mean 'United States, I can answer your question, its because our government and media tries to shelter and brainwash us at the same time.

Why dont we hear about the War in Iraq anymore? The war is still alive and kicking to its fullest but news stations dont publish anything on the war anymore. We are sheltered to what the government wants us to hear and see on tv.

RE: This is a joke!
By Yames on 3/10/2008 3:44:21 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, our government dictates what information the media puts out. They have hit men inside CNN, and if CNN does not comply with their wishes, then the insubordinates are taken to a back room and tortured.

Are you kidding? We have some of the best media, in terms of free press, the world over. Lay off the psychedelics.

China on the other hand spoon feeds its people news.

RE: This is a joke!
By stmok on 3/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: This is a joke!
By mindless1 on 3/8/2008 9:45:30 PM , Rating: 1
Think about the size and population of China. Certainly without question someone from CNN or anywhere else could find someone who is a "hacker". That doesn't necessarily mean they find the greatest hacker in the nation, doesn't even have to mean the hacker has finished puberty but nevertheless with that many people you are bound to find at least one hacker dumb enough, lonely enough, or desperate enough for attention to reach out to a reporter.

Would you provide proof? That would tend to get someone into trouble. Maybe it's all made up but even a pathetic hacker would have some second thoughts about who what when where why to provide something concrete a court could use against them.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls
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