Photo: New York Times
Wake up, 7ish. Work till 5:30, or later. Back to the dorm. Instant Ramen noodles. Watch an episode of Fox’s “Prison Break.” Go to sleep. Repeat.This is a day in the life of one of China’s “elite” military hackers, who actually regrets not becoming a lawyer or doctor instead.
Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times reports that when the cyber security company Mandiant unmasked the Chinese Army’s hacking unit, they also found and profiled many individuals within that unit.
One such individual had a public blog, and posted 625 entries between 2006 and ’09 — when it was discontinued — many of which lamented his decision to enlist in the military as a hacker.
“Rocy Bird” — his handle — or “Wang,” his discovered surname — expressed frustration about his job much like any other regular Joe.
He wrote in one 2007 blog entry: “What I can’t understand is why all the work units are located in the most remote areas of the city. I really don’t get what those old guys are thinking in the beginning. They should at least take us young people into consideration. How can passionate young people like us handle a prison-like environment like this?”
He never disclosed his exact occupation, but researchers are 99 per cent sure. One of the first projects he worked on was a Remote Administration Tool, a RAT, called Back Orifice 2000, a program which originated in the U.S. but later mutated for often nefarious purposes.
For Wang though, it was just a day’s work, and a frustrating one at that.
“If we’re lucky enough, we might be able to complete this year’s target and earn a year-end bonus for everyone,” Wang blogged. Later he’d complain about his boss taking extravagent trips, the same one who chastised him for brushing up on his English with “The Economist” and “Harvard Business Review.”
“These were not elite uber-hackers,” Richard Mogull, an Internet security consultant and head of the Phoenix-based Securosis, told the LA Times. “Some people want to demonize these guys, but they are just frontline soldiers doing their job for their country — not evil people.”
Regardless, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just issued a report calling the cyber campaign against America more dangerous than extremist terrorism. The report acknowledges weakness in the power grid, but calls an attack on infrastructure — from China or Russia — unlikely, due in large part to deterrence and common interest.
Mandiant and other security experts say that because these “elite” military hackers don’t consider what they’re doing illegal, they don’t make a concerted effort to hide themselves. They’re in uniform, it’s sanctioned. So they’re less careful than hackers from groups like the Anonymous collective when it comes to online identities.
Barack Obama recently began an information sharing initiative with security companies and private corporations in an attempt to aggregate the nature of these attacks, to better understand and mitigate the risk of espionage.
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