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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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"Every government hacks"
By falacy on 3/8/2008 11:38:47 AM , Rating: 2
I seriously doubt that the Canadian government knowingly hacks others around the world. The "Canadian Security Intelligence Service" (CSIS) has it's own website, which knowing our niave approach to the world is likely running IIS from a Windows 2000 server that hosts all of our "secrets", like our top secret spying on research to remove the fat from bacon without changing the taste and texture.

If our government hasn't even noticed that CFB Trenton (our national airforce base - also where our dead soldiers return after being killed by the taliban in Afganistan) is clearly detailed on Google Earth, I don't expect that it's particularly skilled in the computer industry... About a year ago I passed this info along to a lady that I know who works on the base for some high ranking person, but I guess they didn't care. I do though, as my family and I live in the nuclear bomb splash radius of the base, as do 50,000 or so other Canadians...

Mmmm... I think some governments aren't in the hacking business.

RE: "Every government hacks"
By jpieters on 3/8/2008 12:59:30 PM , Rating: 2
I am sorry that you feel this way Falacy. If you think that CSIS and the RCMP are the only intelligence gathering institutes in Canada then you are sorely mistaken. Perhaps you need to do some research into the CSE for example. Also, details of military camps available on the internet are not a huge threat, considering you can photograph most of CFB Trenton from the highway.

Sure, Canada may not be at the forefront of international espionage, but never ever assume that we are a joke Intelligence Community.

RE: "Every government hacks"
By Xs1t0ry on 3/8/2008 2:22:46 PM , Rating: 2
Sure, Canada may not be at the forefront of international espionage, but never ever assume that we are a joke Intelligence Community.

Well put. I am a member of the CF and I considering where our operations currently are and who we are up against, I don't think being able to see our bases on Google Earth is a big deal anyways.

Moreover, as an "insider," I can tell you to expect some good things from the DND (Department of National Defence) concerning counter-cyber-terrorism and all-around cool hacking stuff in the next 5 to 10.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook
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