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[ISN] Symantec: Chinese hackers grow in number, skills


By Jeremy Kirk
IDG News Service

China's hacking scene appears poised for growth, as the number of 
Internet users rise with a commensurate interest in criminal hacking and 
government spying, according to a new Symantec study.

"China’s hacking scene is clearly an active one," the report said. 
"These individuals and groups are known for discovering vulnerabilities, 
writing exploit code and developing sophisticated hacking techniques."

China ranks second behind the U.S. as far as malicious activity on the 
Internet as a whole, Symantec said, citing its own data. The country had 
131 million Internet users as of the end of 2006, accounting for about 
10 percent of its population and 11 percent of the world's Internet 

A well-known cyberwar between Chinese and American hackers erupted in 
April 2001 following the collision of a U.S. military spy plane and 
Chinese fighter. U.S. government Web sites were hacked and defaced with 
slogans such as "Beat down imperialism of American," courtesy of a group 
calling itself the Honker Union of China.

Not to be out-hacked, U.S. hackers responded over China's handling of 
the incident, which involved an awkward demand for an apology.

But perhaps more disturbing have been the efficient ways Chinese hackers 
are believed to have obtained sensitive information. In June 2004, South 
Korea was reportedly victimized by a concerted attack using Trojan horse 
programs -- which appear harmless but have malicious functions -- to 
pilfer classified documents on weapons systems.

In total, 211 South Korean government computers are believed to have 
been compromised, in addition to 67 other machines belonging to 
companies, media groups and universities, according to Symantec.

Chinese computer gurus have also experimented with the "pump-and-dump" 
scheme, a trick used to inflate stock prices for profit, Symantec said. 
Starting in October 2004, a group used a Trojan horse to steal account 
details for users of several online stock traders, then used the 
accounts to run-up certain stocks.

The victims lost more than $1.3 million, with the attackers profiting 
around $114,000.

But in recent years, some of the bad guys have come clean, starting up 
their own computer security companies. China now has about six antivirus 
vendors, in addition to a number of computer security research and 
consulting groups.

However, there's "growing concern of an escalated cyber threat from 
China, from the perspective of both governments and enterprises," 
Symantec said.

The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.

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