Hacking for Fun and Profit in China’s Underworld

The New York Times profiles one of a legion of hackers working underground in China:

Majia, a soft-spoken college graduate in his early 20s, is a cyberthief.

He operates secretly and illegally, as part of a community of hackers who exploit flaws in computer software to break into Web sites, steal valuable data and sell it for a profit.

Internet security experts say China has legions of hackers just like Majia, and that they are behind an escalating number of global attacks to steal credit card numbers, commit corporate espionage and even wage online warfare on other nations, which in some cases have been traced back to China.

…And with 380 million Web users in China and a sizzling online gaming market, analysts say it is no wonder Chinese youths are so skilled at hacking. Many Chinese hackers interviewed over the last few weeks describe a loosely defined community of computer devotees working independently, but also selling services to corporations and even the military. Because it is difficult to trace hackers, exactly who is behind any specific attack and how and where they operate remains to a large extent a mystery, technology experts say.

And that is just the way Majia, the young Chinese hacker, wants it. On condition that he not be identified by his real name, Majia agreed two weeks ago to allow a reporter to visit his modest home in a poor town outside Changsha, and watch him work.

February 1, 2010 9:26 PM
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