First hacker trail powers up in Beijing

By Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-08 15:42

An alleged hacker accused of manipulating national exam scores through a computer virus has become Beijing's first man to stand trial on hacking charges.

Meng Lingjian, 30, was charged at Fengtai district court Thursday with destroying a computer information system - a computer-based crime aimed at hackers that was introduced by legislators last year.

Meng, a former member of the technical staff at the Beijing Education Examination Authority, admitted Thursday he gained access to the authority's database via a Trojan virus program from his home computer in south Beijing's Fengtai district. But he denied he developed the virus program himself.

"I found the virus program when I scanned the office computer, but I can't recall where I found it now," said the defendant, who has been detained at the Fengtai district detention house.

Once a Trojan horse is installed on a target computer system, it becomes possible for a hacker to access the site remotely and perform various operations.

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The computer major also admitted he "created" a standard score inside the National Computer Rank Examination database for a woman looking for jobs in Hubei province in December 2008. The defendant said the woman needed a decent record in job hunting.
The woman, surnamed Gao, denied she obtained her records from Meng during the investigation.

"She offered me a Tencent QQ gift in return," Meng said in court, adding that the two had never met.

District prosecutors in Fengtai said in court they believed Meng fully understood that his schemes broke the law because they said he intentionally hid the virus program in a secret folder on his computer.

Prosecutors also said Meng hid a bundle of certificates for national computer exams that they say he took away from the examination authority.

Meng denied he intended to steal the documents in order to produce fake certificates.

The Beijing examination authority said it only discovered the loopholes in its database last May after a source in Hubei province contacted the authority. Beijing police arrested Meng one month later.

Police also found the authority's database had been infiltrated through various other attempts and linked them to Meng.

But Yu Xinquan, a Beijing-based lawyer representing Meng, said there was not enough evidence to prove that his client also helped others to change their exam records.

Local prosecutors have charged professional hackers before, but the charges have included such things as theft and the leaking of secrets and have not been listed as computer-based crimes.

The laws targeting hackers were revised last year by the nation's top legislature as online hacking cases continued to grow.

The revised law stipulates that intentionally obtaining, distorting or removing computer data stored on both government and civilian computers could lead to imprisonment for three or more years and warrant heavy fines.

Minor criminals can also be sentenced to criminal detention.

Yu declined to predict the court's likely sentence.

"But because Meng did not admit charges during the police investigation and prosecution, he may get a relatively harsh sentence," the lawyer said.

The examination authority also admitted that a lack of supervision led to the incident and said it had finished scanning its database and that it has recruited several anti-hacking specialists.

The nation's first hacking trial involved Zhang Jinzhi, in Chongqing. The 20-year-old professional hacker, who had been charged with stealing online possessions, was sentenced to 10 years in jail at his first trial.

Li Jun, a recently released professional hacker who triggered China's highest level of virus alert in 2007, spent the past four years in prison for risking government data.

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