For two days in a row last week, the Taiwan and Hong Kong Web sites of Next Media’s Apple Daily were hit by large-scale malicious hacking. Network node back-testing carried out by data security departments on the hackers involved appeared to confirm that the attacks which began on Wednesday last week were the work of China’s “Internet army.”
National security departments in Taiwan categorized these attacks as meriting investigation at the national security level. US authorities have also expressed concern and are sending experts to Taiwan to help investigate.
Some observers think that these incursions may have been a test run for global attacks by a Chinese Internet army, because a further attack on the Apple Daily Web site at 3:23pm on Thursday last week was followed by a worldwide collapse of Facebook’s Web site at 3:50pm. The overload in traffic that caused the Facebook stoppage mostly originated in China, so it might well have been the Internet army’s first use of network nodes it has deployed around the world to launch such an attack.
Although there is currently no way of completely resolving a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, the incident does reveal that the Chinese Internet army’s ability has not gone beyond the level of a bunch of kindergarten rascals. It is rather like a gang of thieves who are not skilled enough to get through a shop’s security system, so they use the crude method of getting a bunch of thugs to block the door and prevent the shop from doing business. If the culprits dress respectably and pretend to be customers, the police may not be able to do anything about it.
The typical way a DDoS attack takes place is that viruses are installed on a multitude of computers or mobile phones belonging to innocent third parties. Such viruses are hard to detect because they are ordinarily inactive. Only when they receive a command via the Internet do they launch an attack, running in the background and sending various kinds of “legal” requests to the target Web site, such as viewing Web pages, making data queries, transferring various kinds of data, synchronous communication and so on, with the aim of paralyzing the Web site through the sheer volume of seemingly innocuous requests.
The key point here is that hackers install viruses on unsuspecting users’ computers and mobile phones. They do it by planting viruses in Web sites that have a large volume of traffic, such as pornography sites, shopping sites, game sites, friend-finding sites and so on. When unsuspecting consumers click on the links, they will download the viruses along with the Web page content, allowing malware to be installed on users’ computers and mobile phones, where it lies dormant until activated.
Another way malware can be installed is by collaboration with Chinese mobile phone, computer hardware and network equipment makers by getting them to put viruses into these devices, and then dumping them onto international markets at a cheap price. These devices can then form a zombie force all over the world, waiting to be deployed by China’s Internet army.
If you do not want to become an accomplice of the Chinese Internet army, firstly you should not visit any Chinese Web sites. It is not only a matter of DDoS malware; there are more viruses lurking on Web sites based in China than anywhere else.
It is also unwise to buy or install any Chinese-made equipment, no matter how cheap it is, including computer software and hardware, mobile phone apps and communications equipment. It would also be wise to do periodic virus scans to check whether there is any malware on your equipment. These precautions will greatly reduce the risk of becoming a tool in the hands of the Chinese Internet army.
Louis Lu is a computer company sales director.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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