As hacking hits home, China strengthens cyber laws

China has sharpened its laws against cybercrime, as the maximum sentences jump from three years to seven.

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A year ago, when a Time Magazine reporter told Tan Dailin that he'd been identified as someone who may have hacked the Pentagon, he gasped and asked, "Will the FBI send special agents out to arrest me?"

The answer, it turns out, was, "No, the Chinese government will."

Dailin, better known in Chinese hacker circles as Withered Rose, was reportedly picked up last month in Chengdu, China, by local authorities. He is now facing seven years in prison under a new Chinese cybercrime law that was passed in late February.

Although the Western media has been awash with stories of Chinese hacking for years, cybercrime was until recently governed by three articles added to China's criminal code in 1997. The laws were out-of-date and "failed to correlate proportionately with the tremendous social harm" caused by cybercrime, according to a recent paper on Chinese cyber-law published in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics.

"China has made significant progress in cybercrime legislation and is putting in great efforts to strengthen it," said Man Qi, one of the paper's co-authors, in an email interview.

However, the paper concludes that the country's laws are still in the early stages of development. "Gaps and inadequacies exist in traditional offense provisions," said Qi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computing at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK

Until the new law was passed in February, computer crimes carried a maximum of three years' jail time. That has now been extended to seven years, and the definition of computer crime has also been broadened.

"These changes to the criminal code are important to crack down [on] cybercrime and also help to strengthen the protection of privacy and personal property," Qi said.

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