US-China 'cyberwar' rates as amateur jest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2001, 12:00am

Hackers and onlookers from both sides of the United States-China 'cyberwar' agree it is generally being waged by amateurs using ready-made programs - called script kiddies - and efforts were more in jest than experts thought.

For the past week, mainland hackers have lashed out in political protest over the death of pilot Wang Wei in an international spy plane collision and the defacing of mainland Web servers by US hackers.

Frankie Zie, technical director of Shenzhen-based Internet security firm CNNS, said: 'This is not the first time a hacking war has happened between the US and China, but this is definitely the largest.'

Mr Zie was one of the mainland hackers involved in the attack following the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia two years ago.

'Following the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, there was a hacking war, too, and it was the Chinese who initiated it. This time, it is the other way around,' he said.

However, 'the hackers with the real skills are not in this thing at all', he said.

'It's a matter of principle. A real hacker does not go around destroying things. He will discover a problem and help people solve it. And he will not bring politics into it, or use it as a pretext for hacking activities. Even if a hacker really does something, he will not declare it.'

Mr Zie estimated there were about 20 to 30 hackers on the Chinese side, almost all under the age of 30.

'From what I know, there are about 500 to 600 Web sites in China, and more than 1,000 Web sites in the US defaced, but there is no way to ascertain the numbers,' he said.

Of the hackers contacted by e-mail over the past few days, most who replied were pro-American. Few pro-Chinese attackers were willing to speak.

Some moves by Chinese hackers could be tracked on public sites, including an attack on on Friday night. One hacker last week told compatriots to download software from a site, but the link did not seem to work and the attack did not gather a concerted effort.

Pro-US hackers who replied to e-mail questions generally said their efforts were more in jest than anything else.

One group, World of Hell, made up of individuals from the US, Mexico, Britain and the Netherlands, said: 'Chinese call it a war, we call it a game.'

One member wrote: 'Chinese call it a war because they think it's hard when their script kiddie programs freeze on their poor computers.'

The group in a recent defacement, splashed 'Slouching Tiger Ridden Dragon' on a Chinese site, a pun on the Oscar-winning movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon . They called it 'a true story of American whoopass, versus the pawns of Communist propaganda'.

World of Hell said several of the 800-plus US-site defacements, listed on one site, were erroneous.

'I saw their list, it is false and unreliable,' the member said.

Despite some of the racist sentiment expressed on pro-US defacements, the hacker stressed it was a contest of skills.

'To us this is not a racist campaign, just a game to prove that hackers in America are better than those in China,' he said.

Hi-Tech Hate Crew, another pro-US group, took the battle more seriously.

'It's a cyberwar - when politics doesn't reach a pact there is a cyberwar.'

One member wrote: 'It's normal. We hope that many Chinese people will open their eyes and, after, they will see in what country they live.'

On a May 6 defacement of Hong Kong site Moneymaker, a hacker called Pr0phet issued a plea for both sides to halt.

'This was never about hate nor race,' he wrote, adding the defacements in the beginning were about bragging rights between two hacker communities but had become over-inflated with media attention.