May 24, 2009:
China has finally made it illegal to take control of PCs and use them for criminal activities. This is done with botnets (PCs that are secretly controlled by the criminals). These are primarily owned by criminal organizations. There's big money in botnets, which can be used to spew spam, launch a widespread search for secret files, or shut down websites (with a DOS, or Denial of Service) attack. China has long been pressured to outlaw many Internet based crimes, and to go after the many Internet criminals operating out of China.
About a quarter of the 4-5 million PCs worldwide, that have been infiltrated by hackers, turned into "zombies" are Chinese. This has become a big business, with each PC in a botnet producing $300-$500 a year, or more, for those who control them. Botnets of 100,000 or more PCs are not unusual, and many of them are for rent.
Five years ago, the Chinese found that, while their own Cyber War forces were capable of launching attacks over the Internet, their own computers are already overrun with viruses and worms. A government survey found that, in 2003, 87.9 percent of Chinese PCs connected to the Internet were infected, and most were still infected in 2004. While the United States is regarded as the one nation most dependant on the Internet, it is also the country with the largest amount of effort dedicated to protecting its PCs from infection by malware (viruses, worms, Trojans and the like.)
China caused the problem because of an outlaw mentality when it came to software. So most users have pirated operating systems and applications on their machines. While there are pirated versions of anti-virus software available, using this kind of protection is not popular. China is trying to get around this by using Linux, a free operating system that is far less vulnerable to attack via the Internet. But Linux does not have as much software available for it, and users are reluctant to abandon Windows, and all the neat games and other software that only runs on Windows powered computers. The Windows based games, it turns out, are a major obstacle in getting many users, even business users, to switch. It seems that playing games on company computers after hours is a valuable fringe benefit for workers, and costs the company little. No one likes to talk about this form of compensation, but there it is.
The most serious aspect of all this is the number of government computers that are using Windows, and are infected. The government has found that switching to Linux is difficult, as there are not enough computer experts to carry this out. Microsoft Windows is much easier to install, and maintain, than Linux. While many more Chinese computer manufacturers are now shipping PCs with Linux installed, Microsoft has a huge head start, and less than ten percent of the PCs shipped in China have Linux on them.
China is trying to fix this by subsidizing Linux training for Chinese engineers and computer technicians. The government also subsidized the development of the Unix based server software, and desktop versions of Linux that do everything a business needs, but are more secure than Microsoft software.
Chinese hackers (mainly the Internet gangsters the government tolerates) are the source of many of the viruses and worms that rapidly spread worldwide. But these nasty little concoctions have, in the past, done more damage, proportionately, in China than they do in the United States. With Linux software, China hopes to develop defenses, and rid the country of much of the pirated software that still runs most of the economy.