The hacking life of Chicom cyber warriors

LA Times:
For a 25-year-old computer whiz enlisted in a People's Liberation Army hacking unit, life was all about low pay, drudgery and social isolation.

Nothing at all like the unkempt hackers of popular imagination, the young man wore a military uniform at work in Shanghai. He lived in a dorm where meals often consisted of instant ramen noodles. The workday ran from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., although hackers were often required to work late into the evening.

With no money and little free time, he found solace on the Internet. He shopped, chatted with friends and courted a girlfriend. He watched movie and television shows. He drew particular inspiration from the Fox series "Prison Break," and borrowed its name for his blog.

The blog provides a rare peek into the secretive hacking establishment of the Chinese military, which employs thousands of people in what is believed to be by far the world's largest institutionalized hacking operation.

Concern about computer security has risen sharply in recent weeks. Top U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that attacks and espionage now pose a greater potential danger than Al Qaeda and other militant organizations. The computers of more than 30 journalists and executives of Western news organizations in China, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have been hacked.

Mandiant Corp., a U.S. computer security firm based in Alexandria, Va., said in a report last month that it had traced an epidemic of attacks on dozens of U.S. and Canadian companies to an office building in Shanghai occupied by an espionage unit of the People's Liberation Army.

Richard Bejtlich, Mandiant's security chief, said posts written by the blogger, who called himself "Rocy Bird," provided the most detailed first-person account known to date of life inside the hacking establishment. Although the blog was discontinued four years ago, the techniques described in it remain the same. "It is relevant," said Bejtlich. "Things have not changed that much."

The hacker, whose real family name is Wang, posted some 625 entries between 2006 and 2009. "Fate has made me feel that I am imprisoned," he wrote in his first entry on "I want to escape."


..., Wang poured out his unhappiness. The hackers were required to speak English, the international language of technology, as well as an essential for phishing attacks on mostly U.S. targets. But when Wang tried to hone his English skills by reading magazines such as the Economist and Harvard Business Review, his boss rebuked him for reading too much foreign press.

"The boss doesn't understand. I'll have to be more careful," he complained. Wang was also unhappy that supervisors refused to reimburse him for a $1 bus ticket to attend a business conference, while his boss claimed more than $100 for a bottle of liquor.

There is much more.

It is not clear to me why the US does not help people like Wang escape the drudgery in exchange for information about the hacking operations and his chain of command.  It is clearly a government operation that deserves a lot more attention.


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