The Chinese Hacker Offensive

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Wed May 2 22:15:54 MDT 2001

[Posting is real slow on the Cuba News list, with delays of a couple of
hours or more recently. I believe this has to do with Yahoo groups filtering
for adult material, or perhaps a breakdown of some of their servers, and not
a hacker attack.  But at any rate, I posted this to Cuba News to explain
what I've been able to find out about this Chinese hacker offensive. As
usual, there is much more than is reported in most news accounts.]

*  *  *

Walter has forwarded an aticle about the offensive launched by Chinese
hackers as a possible explanation of difficulties we have encountered in the
last couple of days with posts to Cuba News.

This is actually a much more interesting story than it seems, and it may be
music of the future re. Cuba, as the joven computing clubs on the island are
undergoing a major expansion, and Cuba appears to have decided to become a
world power in computing as it has done in medicine and education.

The web site of the Chinese compañeros carrying out this campaign is The site is in chinese, almost completely, but if you
click around, you will eventually get to their list of hacked sites, and
clicking around there will get you to sites that are still hacked.

Despite FBI claims about the end of civilization as we know it, what the
Chinese hackers are doing is quite mild, and might even be considered a free
security evaluation. They are going to various American sites and replacing
the home page. The old home page is saved under a distinctive name, nothing
is deleted, stolen or vandalized.

It is the online equivalent of a campaign of symbolic civil disobedience,
like that being waged against the U.S. bombing of Vieques.

Of course, it is not possible to do this to a properly secured web site. By
showing the site owners that their site is insecure, these red-hat hackers
are, in effect, giving them a chance to secure the site before
criminally-minded "black hat" hackers get to it.

The pages that replace the home pages (I have seen several) feature the
Chinese flag, accompanied by a midi rendition of the Chinese National Anthem
and Chinese anti-imperialist slogans with rudimentary English translations.

[I've also seen claims that the Chinese hackers have carried out Denial of
Service (ping flood) attacks, but no details so that one could verify it. I
would be very surprised if after the DOS attacks last year on CNN and
others, there would be large sites still vulnerable to this.]

The group doing this is the Honker Union of China. "Honker" is a rendition
into european letters of the name Chinese hackers have adopted. It is my
understanding that "Hacker" sounds like "black guest" in Chinese; "honker,"
red guest.

One big difference between the Chinese honker ethic and the hacker ethic
under capitalist regimes is that the honker movement is organized on a large
scale. They meet online, have mechanisms to adopt decisions and carry out
coordinated campaigns, hacking offensives like the current one.

Now, the Chinese offensive is being presented as an unprovoked attack. This
is not true. Throughout the month of April, since the crew of  the American
spy plane turned itself into the Chinese authorities (cowardly choosing to
save their own skins instead of ditching their plane in the ocean thereby
putting supposedly vital, secret national security devices beyond the reach
of the adversary they were being used against), dozens of Chinese,
especially government web sites have been defaced and vandalized. The home
pages are replaced with racist, anti-Chinese insults, malicious trojan horse
programs planted, etc.

The hacks being carried out in many cases are untypical of what we've seen
from hackers in the past, even socalled "Black-hat" hackers. SOME of the
hacked sites do look like typical hacker activity, with "greetz" to various
and sundry, exortations to the webmaster to clean up their act, and so on.
The other type of hacked site I refer to are plain text ascii files, without
any imaginative typography, no greetz, no other reflection of the hacker
subculture, with vulgar racist slanders like one that had an "application"
to be a "Chinaman." This just doesn't have the look and feel of work done by
teenagers or college-age kids immersed in the hacker subculture It reeks of
the methodical, unimaginative work of government bureaucrats. It looks
EXACTLY like the kind of material the FBI was so fond of putting out in its
Cointelpro programs, i.e., a conscious campaign of government provocation to
try to get hackers and honkers at each other's throats.

I would be hard-pressed to refute an accusation that the campaign undertaken
by the Honker Union of China is has elements that could be called juvenile.
But these young people are right in speaking out against the hacking of
Chinese sites with provocative racist propaganda, U.S. efforts to arm
breakaway province Taiwan to the teeth, U.S. spying and military
provocations against China, etc. And they are right to organize and act
collectively to defend their country.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Walter Lippmann" <walterlx at>
To: "CubaNews" <CubaNews at>
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2001 2:27 PM
Subject: [CubaNews] low volume on CubaNews list

People who know much more about these matters
than I do say that the information below explains a
raft of computer problems of interest to readers of
this list. It's outside my area of expertise, but I have
noticed extreme difficulty in posting in the last days.
If you're wondering why, this is the reason. If you'd
like to communicate with me off-list, my e-mail is:
walterlx at


Wednesday, May 2, 2001
U.S.-China Battle of 'Hacktivism' Escalates
Net: American hackers take up a new effort--international
disputes--as they trade taunts with foreign counterparts.

By CHARLES PILLER, Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO--Chinese and U.S. hackers escalated their
cyber-war Tuesday, in a rising battle of online mischief
triggered by the recent collision between a Chinese military
jet and a U.S. surveillance plane.

Scores of Web sites were defaced this week by Chinese hackers
and their U.S. counterparts.

In most cases, the home Web pages of affected U.S. sites were
replaced with anti-American propaganda and images of the
Chinese pilot downed in the incident with the U.S. plane.
American hackers in turn substituted anti-Chinese diatribes
and taunts on Chinese sites' home pages.

The cyber-war appears to be the first effort by American
hackers to battle counterparts in another nation over a
political conflict. In general, Web site defacements by
U.S.-based attackers have been an effort to demonstrate their
technological skills at disrupting sites.

"Never before have countries been in the situation where their
own 'patriotic' citizens have had the ability to launch
attacks on their own initiative," said Ben Venzke, a
cyber-terrorism expert with, a site that
tracks terrorism incidents and hacking wars.

"Very few people have had an ICBM [missile] in their living
room . . . but now from the comfort of their easy chair at
home they have the ability to launch a wide range of attacks
that have the potential to cause a significant amount of
damage," Venzke said.

Among the U.S. government sites temporarily disabled Monday
were those maintained by the Treasury Department and the
Federal Emergency Management Agency. A range of Chinese
government sites also were hit.

The precise number of Web sites hacked is not known. Affected
sites usually correct the problems within hours or even
minutes--sometimes before hacking monitors have even been

Both commercial and government sites were targeted on both
sides of the Pacific. Chinese hackers left a message on the
site of Online Engineering Services Inc. in Bothell, Wash.:
"This Web site was hacked by ChinaEagle for beating down all
the hegemonism of USA."

Several previous conflicts in the real world have spurred
cyberspace battles:

Palestinian and Israeli hackers disabled hundreds of enemy
sites in a battle that started last year. And Indian and
Pakistani antagonists fighting over the disputed Kashmir
region have waged a long-running Web-defacement war, as have
the revolutionary Tamil Tigers and the government of Sri

Chinese hackers have similarly attacked Taiwanese and Japanese
sites during international disputes.

In the most recent episode, however, the virtual war appears
to have been provoked by the Chinese hackers.

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned of
impending attacks after widely publicized threats by Chinese
hackers that were posted in Internet chat rooms.

The FBI said attacks would be mounted throughout this week.
The American hackers appeared to take up the challenge; as
many as several hundred sites may have been hit so far,
according to those who monitor hacking on the Internet.

Experts called the attacks mischief rather than efforts to
destroy computer systems or steal data.

"It's not what people have been calling 'cyber-war' or
'cyber-terrorism,' " said Amit Yoran, president of the
security firm RipTech. "It's 'hacktivism'--trying to get some
public attention and outcry."

Yoran said his company's monitoring system shows the Chinese
efforts involved standard hacking methods and tools that
require little sophistication, and whose damage can be quickly

A move to more destructive techniques could change the
equation, Venzke said.

If such attacks cause serious damage, international tensions
could rise. Governments could face the difficult prospect of
figuring out how to rein in their own hacker vigilantes or
risk uncontrollable escalation.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

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