Chinese Hackers Steal Data From Powerful Party Security Agency

June 1, 2015 Updated: June 1, 2015

Most Chinese hackers usually seem to work for the state in one way or another, pilfering the commercial secrets of companies abroad and feeding them back to state-run firms. But another group is instead targeting the Chinese Communist Party itself.

On May 22, a Facebook user calling himself “Unicorn Nocturne” announced that a group of “anti-tyranny hackers” have compromised computer systems belonging to the Shanghai Bar Association, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, and the Guangdong provincial branch of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission—which controls the regime’s security apparatus—and absconded with the contact information of thousands of personnel.

In an interview with Epoch Times, the hacker, who identified himself as Cheng Binlin, said he was inspired by “ideals of democracy,” and the wish to “expose the tyranny and despotism” of the Chinese regime.

The choice of some of the targets for penetration was not immediately clear, though bar associations in China are known to be adjuncts of the state, and are complicit in some of the regime’s persecutory policies.

The Political and Legal Affairs Commission is the Party agency that oversees the courts, police, armed police, secret police, and the procuratorate, controlling a budget of around $120 billion—more than military expenditures. It was once helmed by former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, who was recently purged in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Party rectification campaign. Zhou now awaits trial on charges of bribery, abuse of power, and leaking state secrets, according to state media.

Hacking the PLAC and exposing its personnel information may have a deterrent effect on its agents committing further human rights abuses, Cheng said. “This victory will boost our group’s ‘justice’ campaign … and provide a foundation to recruit conscientious and righteous people from the justice, education, military, and police sectors,” he wrote in a Facebook posting.

In the interview on May 23, a day after the hack became public, he said that his team will sort out and organize the data gathered from the hackings, and eventually release the information to the public.

The group also announced that they had broken into the computer system of the Chinese Communist Party’s Youth League and unearthed 100 documents that reveal the inner workings of the Party’s online propaganda unit, the 50-cent army. That news was widely reported in Chinese language media.

With a keen interest in history and training in the liberal arts, Cheng said that he quickly discovered after leaving China that the Party’s version of major historical events as taught in school and trumpeted by the Party—the Second Sino-Japanese War, the violent political campaigns of the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen massacre, the persecution of Falun Gong—were bogus.

“We can’t allow an organization like the Chinese Communist Party to lead our country, our nation, our people,” Cheng told Epoch Times. “With the rise of the Internet, the truth of history has gradually emerged. More and more people have learned the historical truth, and the Party’s evilness.”

Cheng said he doesn’t condemn “officials and civil servants within the system”—but he thinks that it is “very clear” that they have to decide whether or not to continue backing the regime. “Within their hearts, there’s anxiety and despair. They’re thinking. Some of them are aware of it while others are still struggling.”

In retaliation for their penetrating the networks of the regime’s security agency, Cheng said that the email inbox of the hacking collective—they call themselves “The Neighborhood Internet Citizens”—has been receiving phishing emails aimed at placing viruses on their computers. They also find their servers disrupted from time to time.