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  From the July 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 7).

Cyber Patriots Wage War

Zhou Derong, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative),
Frankfurt, Germany, April 24, 2001.


The new face of battle
The world may be ignoring the smell of gunpowder in the air, but the Sino-American war is well underway. While America’s top diplomat Peter Verga was still haggling with his Chinese counterpart at the negotiating table in Beijing over “sorry” or “very sorry,” the first battle had already been fought—a virtual battle, fought digitally on the World Wide Web.

The first cyber-shot fell three days after the incident in the sky, immediately after President George W. Bush uttered what the Chinese perceived as a “barbaric imperialist” threat, saying that instead of an apology for the [April 1] midair collision [between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter plane], he was planning to withdraw American diplomats and cancel his trip to China scheduled for October if Beijing didn't return the plane and its crew to America soon. For China, this was a slap in the face. But for the wangmin, China’s Internet surfers, it was a declaration of war.

“You Americans want war?” runs their aggressive on-line slogan: “We'll give you war.”

On the evening of April 3, furious Chinese cyber-patriots attacked selected American Web sites, including two that belong to the U.S. Navy. On one of these sites, www.iplexmarin.com, the attackers left a message in English and Chinese saying, “As Chinese citizens we love our fatherland and the Chinese people.” In this case, “we” stands for the so-called “Hacker Union of China” founded by a hacker by the name of Lion: “We are deeply outraged over this imperialist aggression. Fatherland, we are prepared to give our all for you. Even our lives if necessary.”

This last promise may only be meant in virtual terms, for in real life, Chinese hackers are usually spoiled only children, successful yuppies in China’s New Economy. Chinese cyber-patriots can look back on only a short history, as China didn’t gain access to the Internet until 1992. But in this brief period, the country’s surfers have been highly active. In particular, they have probably done more for the reawakening of Chinese self-confidence than the Communist Party did in 50 years.

"You Americans want war? We'll give you war."
The hard core of the Internet community consists of hackers, mostly from Taiwan. In the mid-1990s, a Taiwanese hacker called “Coolfire” published a thrilling, entertaining eight-part introduction on-line that became essential reading for all subsequent Chinese hackers. Such well-known Chinese Internet idols as Frankie, Yuange, Netcc, or Glacier all learned the basics from Coolfire. The development of their thinking is similar to that of the intellectuals in the 1980s: Having initially taken everything from the West at face value, they later became so disillusioned that they abandoned their own notorious brand of nihilism and became patriots.

In 1998, when the persecution and killings inflicted on Indonesia’s Chinese population drew no response from Beijing, hackers made their first organized appearance, attacking Indonesian Web sites. The campaign was such a success that hackers who took part were later celebrated on-line as national heroes. Four renowned hackers then founded the now legendary “Green Brigade,” which devotes itself to problems of Internet security in peacetime but which may wish to act as a spearhead force in times of war.

On the evening of April 3, the Green Brigade attacked America—a move promptly followed the next day by a counterattack. American hackers summoned and organized by a group called Poizonbox took part in operation “Chinakiller,” attacking at least 100 Chinese Web sites. The individual strikes are listed on the German site defaced.alldas.de, where the score currently stands at nearly 500 victims. Unlike the Chinese, who leave patriotic messages on the American Web sites, the Americans simply write, “This site now belongs to Poizonbox.”

The Chinese hackers are all anonymous, operating underground, while their opponents leave signatures including a link to an information site for hackers, the “Security News Portal.” The FBI, too, keeps an interested eye on this digital piracy—and says nothing. This in turn further encourages the Chinese, who started the conflict in the first place. As one overzealous hacker blurted out prematurely to the annoyance of his fellow fighters, the cyber-warriors have planned a general attack for the first week of May, beginning on International Labor Day. The major offensive is scheduled for May 4—also the day of celebrations for the “Chinese Renaissance.”



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The Security News Portal is a mecca for hackers and would-be hackers.

Astalavista.com offers tutorials on the legal skills necessary for hacking.

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