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Source: Security Wire Digest

Posted on May 9, 2001

      After a week-long campaign in the trenches of cyberspace, Chinese hackers Wednesday declared victory in their unofficial war with the United States and retired from the virtual field of battle.

      Claiming more than 1,000 successful defacements and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on U.S. corporate and government Web sites, the Sino hacker group "Honker Union of China" initiated an unilateral cease fire, saying it achieved its objectives in protesting U.S. imperialism. "Any attacks from this point on have no connection to the Honker Union," the group said in a statement.

      Chinese hackers say they didn't initiate the conflict, claiming U.S. hackers were taunting them as far back as April 1. Dubbing the conflict China's sixth cyberwar, Honker Union launched the campaign against the United States on May 1, the May Day workers' holiday. The offensive action coincided with escalating diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington over the April collision of a Navy surveillance plane over the South China Sea.

      U.S. hackers didn't sit idle as such high-profile Web sites as the White House, CNET and the Department of Commerce were either DoSed or defaced. Observers say U.S. hackers struck an equal number of Chinese Web sites during the eight-day battle.

      The Chinese hacker's declaration of victory seems hollow to information warfare experts, who say it's hard to quantify the extent of the damage or success of such a campaign.

      "It's ridiculous. In the first place, how can they declare victory? There were no stated goals and no stated outcome," says Ira Winkler, president of Internet Security Advisors Group. "There's been Web sites hacked for a long time. Chinese have hacked U.S. Web sites before, but now they just have a political message."

      The escalation of cyberspace tensions came as no surprise to many analysts, who have long observed the Internet's use as a vehicle for political messages.

      "It's a well-established history of people in our country and in foreign countries expressing their feelings through activity on the Web," says Clint Kreitner, CEO of the Center for Internet Security. "This is really just another example. It just underscores the importance of organizations to make their systems secure."

      While the pan-Pacific conflict was more hype than heat, some observers say it demonstrates the Chinese's ability to marshal resources in cyberspace and launch a concerted effort. Honker Union leaders recruited participants, established rules of engagement and coordinated attacks. By comparison, the U.S. hacker community outclassed the Chinese in technical skills, but couldn't match their command-and-control structure.

      "It was more of an activist campaign, and it was well organized," says Michael Assante, VP of Intelligence for Vigilinx, a managed security service provider. "It's an interesting trend with the Chinese that they can mass a large number of participants and maintain control over them."

      Neither the Chinese nor U.S. governments sanctioned the conflict. The U.S. National Infrastructure Protection Center, as well as other federal agencies and civilian security groups, issued alerts of the Chinese threat as early as April 27, with a steady escalation in warnings as the conflict waged on. Just prior to the cessation of hostilities, the Chinese government announced it considers hacking criminal activity and would start cracking down on offenders.

      Chinese hackers say this is the sixth cyberwar they've waged in the past three years. The first conflicts were with Indonesia and Taiwan. Besides the United States, Sino hackers have twice launched concerted attacks against Japan.

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