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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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RE: Hacker?
By grampaw on 3/9/2008 12:38:07 PM , Rating: 2
These Chinese dudes are obvious "posers" if they're advertising. Ever hear the one about the perfect crime? Nobody knows it's been committed. Need I say more...

RE: Hacker?
By Magnus Dredd on 3/9/2008 2:22:34 PM , Rating: 2
Is it a crime if you have the backing and protection of your government?

If this guy is what he claims, he is fscking untouchable!!!

The Chinese government gets to truthfully say that he is not employed by them for diplomatic reasons, all the while reaping the benefits of what he is doing.

RE: Hacker?
By xRyanCat on 3/9/2008 6:50:25 PM , Rating: 2
The government wouldn't back him up.
If by some chance the U.S. could prove that this man did in fact do what he said he did, the Chinese would deny any affiliation to him. It would be stupid on there part to admit to hacking the Pentagon when they can easily put all the blame on one individual. And have appropriate reprimands carried out on him.

RE: Hacker?
By Strunf on 3/10/2008 2:19:01 PM , Rating: 2
Na the guy would just go missing... I'm pretty sure that if the guy did what he said and the Chinese gov. rewarded him they would never let the US get the hand on him.

RE: Hacker?
By omrtech on 3/14/2008 12:20:14 PM , Rating: 2
I think he meant anonymously "back him up".

I don't think they would leave any trace of payment.

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