An investigation into Chinese cybercrime and the underground economy in comparison with the West

According to the Internet World Stats1, the current total Internet population stands at around 1.9 billion. For those living in the developed countries, the Internet has become so embedded in our daily lives that it is difficult to live without it, or at the very least, the absence of it would be of a great disadvantage. For those with good intent, the Internet is an indispensable tool because it gives them an unprecedented level and speed of access to information. Unfortunately, the Internet has also become an indispensable tool for those with criminal intent. Not only has it given them the potential access to millions of Internet users spanning hundreds of countries, it has also removed traditional boundaries of crime, such as geographical and jurisdictional boundaries (Home Office 2010). This in effect generates new opportunities for crime. Indeed, the consumers are well aware of the threat of Internet crime, orcybercrime.71% of consumers surveyed by CyberSource indicated their concern of the risk of online fraud and 50% still do not buy online (CyberSource 2010). Therefore, the advance in Internet security is critical to the growth of eCommerce. Prior to the availability of the Internet, cybercrimes have been primitive in nature and low in volume. However, the Internet has created new opportunities for crime, and the reach of criminals has been vastly extended. As societies become more reliant on the Internet, the amount of personal data that resides on the network increases dramatically. The financially motivated cybercriminals recognize this opportunity and have subsequently shifted to stealthier attacks with the aim of stealing personal data. Traditional organized crime gangs who are always on the lookout for new profiting opportunities have also been attracted. As a result, a sophisticated underground economy of cybercriminals trading goods and services has emerged. With 420 million Internet users, China has become the single largest Internet population in the world according to Internet World Stats. Astonishingly, the Internet penetration rate in China is only 31.6%, which means that the Chinese Internet population has the potential to triple in size in the foreseeable future. Just to give a clearer picture of the scale of the potential threat from China: the U.K. Internet population is just over a 51million but its Internet penetration rate is already at 82.5%. When China eventually achieves the same level of penetration, the present U.K. Internet population would be equivalent to just around 5% of the Chinese Internet population. One potential threat is the emergence of huge botnets2in China, ones that could be too great in size for some nations to handle. The tendency for Chinese botherders3to launch DDoS4attacks against the West, including the U.K., has already been documented in the works of Zhugeet al. (Zhuge 2007). Perhaps due to the language barrier, while cybercrime in the West has been subject to intense study and research by software vendors, security firms, law enforcement agencies, and academia, little attention has been paid towards cybercrime activities in China. As China is now the world‟largest Internet population and the fact that cybercrimes have no bounds, the security of the Internet inChina has profound implications on the global Internet. Therefore, it is the author‟belief that in the interest for those responsible for cybersecurity, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)the study of Chinese cybercrime and its underground economy is of both a critical and timely subject.

China and the Internet

With a population of 1.3 billion people, China‟s economy has become the world‟s center of attention. In the last ten years or so, it has made tremendous growth at a frightening pace. Similarly, although the Internet was only made publically available during the mid-1990s, China has now become the world‟s largest Internet population with 420 million Internet users and the penetration rate is only32%. With such a large Internet population, the security of the Internet in China is now signed to the rest of the world. In this chapter, an introduction is given about the state of the Internet in China including the characteristics of the Chinese Web and its state of security. An introduction is also given to the rise of the Chinese cybercriminals and their characteristics are compared with those in the West. Finally, an introduction is given to the Internet regulations in China and compared with those in the West

Internet trends in china

Below are some of the highlights from the latest Internet development report (Dec. 2009 – June 2010)compiled by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC):98.1% of Internet users in China accessed the Internet via a broadband connection. However, the connection speed may still be a problem, because according to Akamai, the average connection speed in China is only 695kbps. This is far lower than other large economies like the U.S. (4.6Mbps) U.K.(3.8Mbps) South Korea (12Mbps) and Japan (7.8Mbps) (Akamai 2010).CNNIC reported that 277 million people accessed the Internet via a handheld device and the growth rate for mobile Internet exceeds that of those who access the Internet using desktop stations.

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