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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

China's Cybersnoops Scour the World

June 1, 2008

Sreeram Chaulia
Asia Sentinel
May 2, 2008

Beijing's intrusions into government computers across the planet --
most recently in India — are illegal and outrageous

china-internetcrime While world publicity has mainly focused on the
intrusion of the Chinese into the email system of US Defense
Secretary Robert Gates last year, the fact is that Chinese hackers
have been crawling all over the computer systems of a growing number
of countries. The latest example is their recent foray into the web
servers of India's Ministry of External Affairs.

The Indian incursion is being treated as the Internet equivalent of a
terrorist attack on a national institution, threatening the security
of India's diplomatic and military communications. Although Chinese
embassy officials in Delhi reacted angrily to news of the event as an
"irresponsible fabrication," the incident fits an emerging pattern of
planned Chinese penetration of government websites and subsequent
denial of responsibility.

In May 2007, for instance, it came to light that the Chinese had
hacked into the computers of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office
and three of her ministries. In June came the announcement by US
officials that they had hacked into Gates' email system. In September
the British government disclosed that a hacking unit traceable to the
Chinese People's Liberation Army had hit the networks of the Foreign
Office and other key departments in London.

Although Beijing has vehemently objected to each of the allegations
as malicious propaganda, the scale and nature of data stolen in these
operations leaves little doubt about Chinese state involvement. The
argument that the hackers, whose IP addresses go back to mainland
China, are loose cannons working on their own simply to demonstrate
their destructive technical skills does not square with the reality
that Beijing has never prosecuted any of this burgeoning tribe.

It is ironic that in a so-called communist country where unionizing
is banned for the working class, there exist hackers' "unions" and
"Red alliances" that pool Chinese software programmers willing to
work for so-called patriotic causes. From 1998 to 2002, "Red hackers"
broke into thousands of websites and paralyzed computer systems in
the US, Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan.

The Honker Union, based in mainland China, attained legendary status
as a national asset during the 2001 spy plane standoff with the US.
Its members went on a hacking spree and defaced the home pages of
several American government websites and were answered through a
tit-for-tat by American hacking professionals.

Following that high-profile cyber battle, the Honker Union mobilized
anti-Japanese protests and petitions online in 2003. In 2005, hacking
squads attacked dozens of public and private websites in Japan in
what the Washington Post described as "the heaviest assault ever
perpetrated on the nation's computer systems from overseas." Domestic
public opinion about the Honkers was overwhelmingly positive and even
led to the coronation of celebrity hackers who gave interviews to
media outlets and flaunted their exploits.

Instead of arresting the cyber criminals who are in contravention of
the norms of international diplomacy, both Chinese society and state
have hailed them as national heroes. Chinese Public Relations scholar
Xu Wu has written that hacking for the sake of the motherland is a
"natural extension from China's century-long nationalist movement."
State-run research institutes and media houses glorify them as
implementers of the Maoist doctrine of "harming if you do harm to
me." In such a permissive environment hacking has become a growth industry.

The free rein afforded to hackers contrasts sharply with the tight
control the state attempts to exercise on Internet search engines and
politically objectionable websites. Authoritarian China fears
technologies that allow its citizens access to subversive information
on democracy, human rights, religious freedoms and self-determination
struggles, such as Tibet and Xinjiang. The agreement in 2004 between
the Chinese government and Google to omit contentious news stories
from search results in China illustrates the determination with which
Beijing polices cyberspace.

In March, as the Tibetan tumult cascaded, China swiftly blocked
Google News and YouTube for a week in an attempt at damage control.
Internet censorship by the Chinese government on the issues of Tibet
or the Falun Gong spiritual movement is the obverse of the long rope
given to hackers to incite anti-Japanese riots or to steal state
secrets from targeted countries. This contradictory situation
suggests that New Economy-enabling technology is a double-edged sword
for China's regime.

If the Internet can be China's best friend as well as its worst
enemy, crafty state management of it becomes an imperative. Beijing's
policy is to continue developing its cyberwar abilities as part of
its military modernization drive while acting as a vigilant
gatekeeper against websites that can fuel dissent and unrest among its people.

Legal experts say that effectively outlawing cyber crime is difficult
due to the nature of the Internet. Even if there were an
international convention regulating cyberspace, norm-offending states
like China cannot be expected to adhere to rules of the book.

The only option for victim states like India is to publicize each
incident of Chinese hacking into its domains and to raise
international attention of this patently aggressive behavior.

The more China's hacking strategy is exposed before the world, the
greater will be the urgency to improve internet network security.
India's global leadership in software programming gives it a distinct
advantage in developing foolproof defenses against infiltration by
Chinese hackers. As to the counteroffensive option, Indian hackers
are known to have waged mini-cyber wars against Pakistani websites in
the past. They will need to organise better against the much more
formidable challenge posed by the Chinese.

Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international affairs at the
Maxwell School of Citizenship in Syracuse, New York.
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