China's conmen find new prey

China's conmen find new prey

BEIJING - Scams and petty crime are a dime a dozen in Chinese society at large.

Now they have also become increasingly common in the Chinese cyberspace.

In one case in 2011, a man in Guangdong province was jailed for three years for trying to blackmail a female participant on the dating show If You Are The One with nude photos. He had installed spy software on her computer through her instant messaging account.

Net-savvy criminals have also hacked into victims' instant messaging QQ accounts and tried to pass themselves off as the victims so as to con money from the latter's friends and relatives.

A survey last year by China's Software Test Centre, a research outfit under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, found that 60 per cent of 2,500 people polled have had their personal information stolen.

Another study last year by researchers from Tsinghua University estimated that more than 5.3 million yuan (S$1 million) was lost to cybercrime in 2011.

This affected about 110 million Internet users and more than a million websites.

This means at least one in six of China's 591 million Internet users could have been hit.

Many cases go unreported because the individual sums are small, said Mr Wan Tao, a software engineer and former hacker who started Yiyun, a non-profit group that teaches IT skills.

The cases are usually reported to the victim's local police station, he said, but the crime syndicate might be operating from elsewhere so the police usually do not take further action.

Hacking has also become more prevalent in recent years. Some 16,388 Chinese websites were hacked last year, up 6 per cent from the year before.

Many of the cases have to do with commercial rivalry but there have been instances of protesters targeting the websites of major companies or government agencies.

Some local government websites have been hacked by international activist groups like Anonymous, which vandalised 45 sites last year in the name of Internet freedom.

This August, China said it saw its biggest DDOS (denial of service) attack ever.

It affected popular websites like Sina weibo and Bank Of China.

Experts say Chinese government efforts to tackle cybercrime lags behind developed countries.

"China has put a lot of emphasis on developing the Internet but not enough in making it secure," said Mr Fang Xingdong, chief of Internet business consultancy Chinalabs.

Mr Wan agreed, saying: "Even Internet companies can't guarantee that they have no problems security-wise."

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