All-black stealth suits, fingers flying across keyboards, screams of unintelligible jargon at Matrix-style lines of code. These are the things that generally come to mind when you hear the phrase “foreign military hacking unit” — or at least the mind of anyone who’s seen a movie in the past 10 years. But as the Los Angeles Times discovered when they stumbled across the blog of a 25-year-old peon in a People’s Liberation Army hacking unit, the life of a grunt Chinese hacker isn’t quite as glamorous as it may seem.
Although it’s been neglected over the past four years, 25-year-old Wang’s 625 entries offer the most detailed first-person account to date of life inside the world’s largest institutionalised hacking operation, according to Mandiant’s (a US computer security firm) security chief, Richard Bejtilich. But really, Wang’s going through many of the same trials and tribulations you yourself might be going through — he’s just like us, guys! For instance, no matter who or where you are, those olds just don’t get it! Wang writes in 2007:
What I can’t understand is why all the work units are located in the most remote areas of the city. I really don’t get what those old guys are thinking in the beginning. They should at least take us young people into consideration. How can passionate young people like us handle a prison-like environment like this?
And being trapped at a desk for long hours is a soul-sucking endeavour, regardless of occupation. So Wang did what any of us would do: slacked off on the internet. He may have even been the victim of some old-fashioned catfishing. The LA Times writes:
With no money and little free time, he found solace on the Internet. He shopped, chatted with friends and courted a girlfriend. He watched movie and television shows. He drew particular inspiration from the Fox series “Prison Break,” and borrowed its name for his blog.
The excerpts paint a picture of a man generally unhappy at his job, and even with all the attacks on the US, it’s hard not to sympathise. The workers were forced to speak English but banned from reading American magazines and journals, severely limiting their understanding. You really feel the most for Wang, however, when he recounts a high school reunion:
They all have a bright future. Some of them became lawyers; some went into property business or finance; some wrote programs for a commercial software company. Compared with their handsome monthly income, I even felt ashamed to say hello to them.
The LA Times notes that Wang never actually goes into the pros and cons of the actual work of hacking for the Chinese government, but his regret is painfully evident. If anything, it’s a fascinating look inside a world that you’ll start to realise we know almost nothing about. [Los Angeles Times]