Hackers have heyday but represent a threat

08:22, March 04, 2011      

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The public may not like most government websites, but hackers love them.

Research shows that hackers tampered with 4,635 Chinese government websites in 2010, almost a 70 percent increase in one year. Many did so to express their political or religious views, authorities said.

"Besides posting pictures or text on government websites to get across their different views on political events or religious beliefs, some hackers simply try to penetrate government websites to show off their skills. These people always leave their name on the sites," said a written statement released exclusively to China Daily by the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CNCERT) run by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Government websites account for about 1 percent of all websites based in China - and more than 10 percent of those hit by hackers last year, the statement said. Ministry websites were among those hit, CNCERT said, although it didn't provide examples.

CNCERT, which is responsible for monitoring incidents on national public networks, said some hackers are motivated by financial gain. They plant Trojan viruses on government websites to steal users' information or control their computers.

Hackers began to lay their virtual hands on China's government websites as use of the sites grew. They are more vulnerable than commercial websites because of poor management and outdated technology to combat attacks.

Catching attention

Fan Dongdong and Wen Chao, both 19, received 12- and 18-month prison sentences on Feb 18 in Beijing for redirecting links on the website of the country's Supreme People's Procuratorate - the top agency for legal supervision - and more than a dozen other government websites.

"For every infected link on the Supreme People's Procuratorate's website, we got 4 yuan to 7 yuan," Fan said in court. Fan and Wen had hacked into websites more than seven times from March to May 2010, making a profit of about 6,000 yuan.

"These days, most Chinese hackers attacking government websites simply want to let the government know that people are not happy with their performance," said one of China's best-known hackers and a network security expert, who is known by the nickname "Oldjun".

"We don't mean any harm but we want to catch the authorities' attention on certain issues. Those attacks wouldn't exist if there were no misconduct by the government."

Oldjun posted a Chinese national flag on the homepage of the Melbourne International Film Festival two years ago to protest its decision to show a movie about Rebiya Kadeer. The Chinese government believes she masterminded and carried out attacks that left 197 dead and more than 1,700 injured in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on July 5, 2009.

'A harsh lesson'

Another hacking case occurred in November when the government of Yongji county in Northeast China's Jilin province provided just two options - "satisfied" and "very satisfied" - in an online poll. Thousands of netizens dubbed it the "poll of absolute satisfaction".

An official, surnamed Li, in the county's information service center said the options had been changed by hackers and authorities were forced to shut down the website on Nov 25.

"The county has become the laughingstock of the whole country. It has severely damaged Yongji's image," Li said.

"I never imagined how much effort we have had to put into maintaining the website. It is really not as simple as we first thought. The hackers gave us a harsh lesson. Now we are looking out for them all the time."

In its statement, CNCERT urged all Chinese government websites to boost their firewall systems and employ more qualified web administrators. It said officials should realize that maintaining the websites is more important than constructing them.

Oldjun agreed. "Those measures not only help to combat Chinese hackers' attacks. More important, they prevent foreign spies from getting hold of our national secrets."

By Cui Jia, China Daily
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