Life of a Chinese hacker

Majia is in his early twenties, and is a college graduate with a degree in engineering. During the day, he works at a government agency. But at night, he is free to follow his passion: hacking.

Majia is not his real name, of course – just a handle by which he is recognized online. Even though laws against computer hacking aren’t strictly enforced, they still exist, and he doesn’t want to take chances. He doesn’t want to risk a prison sentence that could put him away for as much as seven years.

But he agreed to meet with the reporter of The New York Times to demonstrate his skills and, possibly, to get a little recognition his work, like many hackers do.

He demonstrates hacking into a website, and a list of people who got infected with a Trojan horse of his making. He says is one among the rare hackers who know how to write quality malicious code – most of them use someone else’s.

But what’s the reason behind his hacker activity? Why does he do it? Money is an good incentive and he admits of accessing his victims’ bank accounts and manipulating them. He also occasionally sells the malicious code he’s writing. The challenges of hacking are part of the motivation, surely.

Majia keeps in touch with a small circle of fellow hackers, exchanging information and ideas. Security experts believe that there are thousands and thousands of hackers in China alone. Sometimes they work for themselves, sometimes for corporations, and sometimes for the government. There are also many exclusively politically oriented hackers.

He says the code used in the recent Google attack was written by a foreign hacker, but was later modified in China, and that “a few weeks before Google was hijacked, there was a similar virus. If you opened a particular page on Google, you were infected.” He doesn’t say (or know) if the instigator of the attack was the Chinese government, but he confirms that there are hackers that work for them and for the military. Asked if he is one of them, he replies “No comment”.

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