China can't seem to keep out of the news about hacking and cyberwar can it? The country's police have scored a positive news report, however: They've closed down the nation's biggest hacker training school. It does raise some questions though.
The action went down in Hubei province in Central China, and three people were arrested and a pile of money and other assets were seized. The three were responsible for running the Black Hawk Safety Net, allegedly, and they're facing charges of providing online hacking code to others--a new offense in China. It all stems back to a cyberattack in 2007, which revealed connections to Black Hawk when some of the suspects were caught.
What exactly were these guys up to? It seems that their main crime isn't so much hacking themselves, but running a subscription site which provided sophisticated tools like trojans and account-hijacking code. They also ran training sessions in which they'd show other coders how to write malicious code. Over the years of operation, Black Hawk attracted some 17,000 VIP members, 140,000 free-access members and had made a haul of the equivalent of just over a million dollars in membership fees. And that's actually pretty amazing--it implies that there's an active hacker base numbering in the hundreds of thousands just from this one site, and though the media is labeling Black Hawk as what's "believed to be" the biggest site, there must be others, and they may be of a similar scale.
The concept of a hacking school is, by itself, an intriguing one, particularly in the light of the ongoing Google-versus-Chinese-government spat. It implies that China really does have a large corps of young code-happy hackers, that might be capable of organizing group attacks on foreign interests. This news article implies that the subscribing Black Hawk hackers were in the game for personal gain, rather than any kind of national/geopolitical reasons. Conspiracy theorists will of course point out that this new report is curiously timely, and that might even reflect a certain amount of former blind-eye turning towards the hacking group by the authorities. And the only way to detect the significance of this police action is to measure if there's a markedly reduced incidence of cyberattacks both inside and outside China in the coming weeks--a statistic that's not necessarily the easiest thing to measure.