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Child hackers(2)

2014-11-03 08:55 fmprc.gov.cn Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
China's young hackers who have come to prominence are more interested in showing off their skills than causing any real harm. Photo: Li Hao/GT

China's young hackers who have come to prominence are more interested in showing off their skills than causing any real harm. Photo: Li Hao/GT

"I submitted over 30 bugs to Ctrip, some of which would allow users to potentially steal bank account information from Ctrip's clients," said Zhao.

Zhao became interested in hacking after he found himself the victim of a virus attack when he was younger.

"I started to surf the Internet when I was 5 years old, and my computer broke down several times due to viruses," he said. "I became fascinated by what viruses could do."

Initially, Zhao's parents were opposed to him spending too much time on the computer. But after efforts to dissuade him from his hobby proved fruitless, they finally relented, and allowed him to enroll into a private class for computer programming.

"Technology knows no age differences," said Zhao. "It's good to know that I can do what adults could do."

Resisting temptation

Although the child hackers who have come to public attention may not have any harmful intentions, their accomplishments have not gone unnoticed by criminal elements who have sought to exploit their talents for nefarious ends.

Last year, Yan Jun, a 17-year-old senior at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, discovered a weakness in the website of Xueersi, a large private tutoring institution with branches all around the country.

The weakness Yan discovered could have resulted in the personal information of thousands of students being stolen.

Yan submitted the flaw to WooYun.org, a public third-party platform in which hackers can bring security problems to the attention of website owners.

"Right after I posted the code, someone contacted me asking me if I wanted to sell the information," Yan said. "I turned him down immediately, before he could make me an offer."

Yan commented wryly that he was quite certain it would have been more than the 200 yuan he was given as a token reward from the website. Nevertheless, he has no regrets.

"Selling such information for money is illegal - and it's against the basic ethics of a hacker," he said. "Besides, I wasn't doing it for the money. I just wanted to practice my skills, and to gain a sense of satisfaction through hacking."

Yan said he has his eyes set doing a computer-related major at Tsinghua University after graduating.

Doing the right thing

According to statistics released by Qihoo360, there were 4 million attempted cyber attacks in Chinese mainland last year. However, around 90 percent of the attacks, said Lin, were not aimed at illegally procuring information, but carried out by hackers who were keen to challenge themselves.

While China's child hackers appear to fall into this latter category, there are some who are concerned that if exposed to the wrong sorts of influences, they could utilize their skills for harm.

Xiong Bingqi, an education expert and vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Shanghai, said that parents and teachers should encourage children to explore their interests, but that Internet is a very sensitive area. He said that it was important that young hackers had proper guidance from adults about what was and wasn't permissible.

Under Chinese law, those who manipulate or steal information from a computer network without consent can be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

"Parents and the teachers need to find a way to encourage their curiosity, while continuing to protect them from getting hurt," said Xiong.

Xiong said that children who were interested in hacking should be guided by their caregivers towards exploring their interests through authorized websites like WooYun, which are aimed at helping improve Internet security.

"[In this way], children can find a positive outlet for their energies," said Xiong.


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