Gong Wei and Wan Tao have published their "Hackers' Self-Discipline Convention" document online and in the media. According to published reports and an English translation of the document, the pair basically are reaching out to China's hacker community to employ their hacking skills for legitimate use rather than with the cyberunderground or for political reasons.
"The privacy of the community, the general public, especially children and minors, should be protected. To the general public, sale of social activities for the purpose of private information is not hacking," a translated version of the Convention document reads.
And hackers "should not disseminate or train in existing hacking techniques and tools as the main way to earn income" in an illegal way, the document says.
The Chinese hacking convention document comes at a time when China is considered one of the top suspects behind increasingly broad and widespread targeted cyberattacks aimed at stealing intellectual property and other sensitive information from the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Chinese hackers have long been associated with the term "advanced persistent threat" (APT).
What this new hacker pledge means for China's alleged cyberespionage culture is unclear. As with other countries, Chinese citizens are also victimized by traditional financial information-stealing cybercrime. And while the Chinese government has publicly denied that it sponsors hacking and cyberespionage, law enforcement and security researchers long have found clues and ties to well-funded, organized Chinese hacking groups in targeted attacks.
Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer and vice president at Mandiant, says the document appears to be an effort by Wei and Tao to announce their new phase as good guys. "I am torn over what I think that [document] might be [for]. Most likely, it's recognition of a personal journey for those guys. They were each a founder of a large hacking community," he says. "I think this is how they are evolving their careers and business interests ... an attempt by these guys to put an element of legitimacy to their businesses. They are probably trying to do legitimate business, but they have this history of being malicious hackers."
Chinese organizations typically have notoriously weak security controls, he says. "More and more Chinese companies are trying to offer [security] services within their own country," he says. "There is a need for some security leaders over there ... they are probably 10 years behind in their security."
Cyberattack offense is more China's specialty: "Offense is so much easier than defense, especially at scale," Bejtlich says. "They are trying to get out front and say, 'We're going to be leaders as respectable hackers.'"
And building up a white-hat hacker community and reputation could help China's cybersecurity image. But white-hat hackers in China are nothing new. "I think that there has always been white and black hackers in China," says Jeffrey Carr, founder and CEO of Taia Global, an executive cybersecurity firm, and author of Inside Cyber Warfare. "I think this is a new tactic, which has the support of the Chinese government."
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