China-U.S. cyber war escalates
HONG KONG, China -- Chinese hacking groups have declared a week-long cyber war on U.S. web sites during the Labor Day holiday starting May 1.
They say the assault is in retaliation for the Bush administration's arms sales to Taiwan and the mid-air collision between a Chinese fighter and a U.S. spy plane.
The onslaught will be the sixth major assault by Chinese hackers since an attack on Indonesian web sites during 1997 riots in Jakarta targeting ethnic Chinese.
Since then Chinese hackers have attacked Taiwanese, Japanese and U.S. web sites amid various diplomatic wranglings involving China.
U.S. computer systems are unlikely to suffer serious disruption during the May Day assault, however, according to Chinese Internet security firms.
Wang Wei eulogies
The FBI has warned U.S. networks and system administrators to closely monitor their web sites and mail services during the May Day holiday.
Chinese hackers have already showered a number of U.S. web sites with eulogies of Chinese fighter pilot Wang Wei, who was killed in the collision on April 1.
The homepage of the California-based Iplexmarin.com has been covered by pro-China messages, the pilot's photos and Chinese national flags for over a week.
The Labor Day holiday includes Youth Day celebrations on May 4, marking the 82nd anniversary of the May Fourth Movement and symbolizing patriotism of the young Chinese in their protest against foreign invaders.
Several major Chinese web sites have opened special forums on the so-called "May Day Protect-the-Nation Cyber War" for Internet users to exchange U.S. government web addresses and trade hacking software.
Chinabyte.com, a joint venture between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and China's communist party newspaper, People's Daily, set up the hacking forums in a bid to drive page views, according to an Internet analyst in Beijing.
The Honker Union of China said the new hacking gig would create a pop-up on U.S. web sites, instead of simply defacing the homepages and posting patriotic messages.
"The strategy of this assault is to expose the U.S. government's nasty behaviors to their people, and encourage the people in the U.S. to fight with their hegemoneous government," said the Honker Union of China in an online statement called "Our Collective Resolution".
A two-way affair
The cyber war is a two-way affair, with hackers on both sides of the Pacific launching attacks on web sites.
Shenzhen Anluo S&T Inc. (Anluo), one of China's biggest Internet security firms, says U.S. hackers have attacked up to 300 Chinese web sites, while Chinese counterparts have invaded about 100 U.S. sites.
Anluo, based in the booming southern Chinese city of Shenzhen just across the border from Hong Kong, was formed by a few hackers in late 2000.
The company, comprising four hacking groups throughout China, has been working with local state security authorities and police to step up Internet security for government and large commercial web sites.
Liu Si, Anluo's sales manager, says the firm has been investigating the defacing of a local government web site, which a U.S.-based hacker group called "Poizonbox" claims responsibility.
Liu admitted that Anluo's chief technology officers were hackers before they formed the company. One of them claims he hacked into the White House homepage and posted a Jolly Roger after the U.S.-lead NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
"But we have grown up. We have commercialized and don't bother to do those little tricks," Liu told CNN.
He says they could hack into up to 100 web sites during one night and steal the database if they want to.
"But Chinese hackers have their principles," he said, adding Chinese government has been recruiting prominent hackers to form an 'Internet Army' in case there's a cyber war with foreign countries.
The currently active hacker groups, such as Honker Union of China and the China Eagles, are mostly young Internet enthusiasts who learn from hacking software programs, the so-called 'dummies' guide to hacking', downloaded from various web sites.
They call themselves 'honkers', which sounds like the Mandarin word of 'red guest', as 'hacker' in Chinese literally means 'black guest'.
The honkers claim they are not hackers, but instead red patriots who only deface the target's homepage instead of destroying the system.
Honker Union posts a series of hacking guides on its web site and latest hacking cases.
Liu of Anluo says Chinese hackers are confident they can beat the Americans, as they are both on the same level.
Another company of a similar background is Beijing-based NSFOCUS Information Technology, a reincarnation of another hacker group, the Green Army.
Most honkers these days are students as young as 17, driven by patriotic passion, said Gao Yongan, NSFOCUS vice president.
"Hacking is like a knife. If you use it to cut meats, then it's a kitchen knife; if you use it to chop up people, then it's a killer weapon," Gao told CNN.
He says the firm is now too busy to meet its clients' orders to care about what's happening on the hacking front.
Jeff Moss, a Seattle-based Internet security expert, said political motivated hacking is nothing new, such as the cyber war between Palestinians and Israelis during the past years.
Moss, CEO of Black Hat Briefings, said such two-way hacking attacks are almost like a sports match when two teams just want to beat each other.
He said political hacking has evolved into a form of protest as hacking has become more accessible to laymen over the past three to four years.
One week training
Any Internet users could spend just a week to read security guides from all over the world to teach themselves about hacking, Moss said.
"Political motivated groups turn to hacking as one more way to get their messages out, to raise the awareness about their particular cause. Hacking is also good because you can immediately reach a large population," he added.
Moss has been gathering hackers and Internet security experts in annual conferences. He says very little is known about Chinese hackers.
About 4,500 hackers have attended various conferences over the past three years, but the actual number of hackers is much higher, according to Moss.
He said political-motivated hacking will continue to escalate and more countries will get involved.
"It will just be background noise, or a constant low-intensity battle going on between hacking groups. Legislation is not going to stop it. Because it's basically a technical problem," he said.
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