School's Out for Chinese Hacker College

ComputersIn what's being labeled the biggest hacking bust in the history of China, police in the Hubei Province arrested three people and seized several computers and servers, a car, and 1.7 million yuan ($250,000). The three arrested were allegedly involved in a web site known as the Black Hawk Safety Net (www.3800hk.com) which sells courses in cybersecurity, aka hacking. According to officials, the site has made around $1 million since it started in 2005. It does not appear that the individuals arrested have been accused of actually hacking, just in distributing materials that would aid in hacking.

 

These arrests appear to be based on Article 286 of the Criminal Laws of the People's Republic of China. The law reads in relevant part (English Translation pulled from Congressional Executive Commission on China):

"Whoever intentionally creates or spreads destructive programs such as the computer viruses, thus affecting the normal operation of the computer system, if the consequences are serious, shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the first paragraph."

The law seems to outlaw creating or implementing a virus in a computer or network, but the language is sufficiently vague (at least by this translation) to potentially criminalize knowingly or unknowingly supporting illegal activity by distributing such software. This law went into effect in 1997, and from my research, has never been applied against a website teaching cyber-security or hacking nor distributors of hacker tools such as trojans, port sniffers, viri, spoofing software...etc. China has been developing a reputation as a haven for hackers, and possibly even sponsoring cyberwarfare. Interestingly, it was only days after Google complained about Chinese hackers using elaborate systems to target Chinese dissidents and civil rights leaders through Google's systems that China made this public show of clamping down on cyberterror. One might even say, by the looks of things, that China was looking for a scapegoat.

 

As an interesting aside, Black Hawk Safety Net appears to have catered primarily to hackers interested in financial fraud and not so much to patriotic hackers, such as the ones Google complained of and that China has been accused of supporting.

 

For the full press release, see China Daily.

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