China, Taiwan in Web hacking ‘war’

(Note: article from 1999, written for MacWEEK/ZDnet) Taiwan’s supposed declaration of independence spurs retaliatory Web site hacks.

(This piece was written by me for MacWEEK/ZDnet in 1999 as the Chief Editor of Macworld magazine’s Chinese edition.)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The political uproar generated by the “two-state theory” raised by Taiwanese President Teng-Hui Lee has generated a high-tech response: The hackers of Taiwan and China are bombarding each other’s Web sites.

The two-state theory was raised by Mr. Lee to describe the current relationship — and indicate future development — between Taiwan and China. It can be translated to mean, “The relationship between Taiwan and China should be a special state-to-state one.”

Many people consider that theory akin to a declaration of independence. As a result, hackers (later confirmed to be from mainland China) started to attack many of Taiwan’s government Web sites last week, changing the content of the home pages to political slogans and warning signs to the “separationists.”

Taiwanese counterattacks

Enraged by the attacks, hackers in Taiwan ignited an organized counterattack on China’s government Web sites, and many of them succeeded.

The Taiwanese hackers not only wrought similar changes to the Chinese Web pages but also added many “liberal” Web elements to their hacking works, such as music (pop songs and the national anthem), cute animations and even apolitical comments citing popular culture.

One hack on a Chinese Web page read, “It’s too hard to get a ‘Hello Kitty’ doll, so doing some hacking here may be a good way to kill the time.” (The McDonald’s restaurants in Taiwan are selling “Hello Kitty” dolls with the meals, and it has been an enormous hit; many stand in line for hours just for the dolls.)

The Taiwanese authorities have warned that hacking even a Chinese Web site is illegal and have told the media that hackers may be tracked down and prosecuted.

A representative of the Taiwanese hackers responded that their movement is an autonomous action against any kind of “information warfare” invasion and dismissed the government’s countermeasures as “unethical.”

Fred Jame is the editor-in-chief of Macworld Magazine’s Chinese edition.