2018-12-27 09:01:54

China’s diverse and fast-growing cyberspace scene is fertile ground for the emergence of gray-area operations that often leave regulators rushing to catch up. But following an announcement from the Supreme People’s Court on Tuesday, hackers who hijack web addresses to redirect traffic may find themselves in trouble in the coming year.

At a press conference on Tuesday, China’s highest court named five criminal cases as judicial examples for combating cybercrimes. One case adjudicated by the Pudong New Area People’s Court in Shanghai was among the five: According to the court’s judgment document, defendants Fu Xuanhao and Huang Zichao had rented multiple servers in 2013 and 2014 and used malicious codes to change random internet users’ domain name server (DNS) settings, thereby redirecting them from popular directory websites like 2345.com to the lesser-known site 5w.com. Fu and Huang then sold the web traffic generated from the redirects to Hangzhou Jiushang Technology Co. Ltd. — the company that owns 5w.com — for over 750,000 yuan ($109,000).

On May 20, 2015, the Pudong New Area People’s Court convicted Fu and Huang of damaging computer information systems and sentenced them to three years in jail each. The case was the first time anyone in China had been held criminally responsible for DNS hijacking.

Zhou Jiahai, deputy director of the research office of the Supreme People’s Court, confirmed during the press conference that DNS hijacking cases “with severe consequences” may constitute the crime of damaging computer information systems.

Prior to Fu and Huang’s case, similar instances of DNS hijacking were typically handled as civil disputes — such as unfair competition between internet service providers — with the charges in such cases varying. Liu Jinrui, a researcher at the China Law Society, the country’s official organization for legal professionals, said in an interview with the Chinese publication 21st Century Business Herald that there have been controversies internationally about whether DNS hijacking should be treated as a criminal offense, since it rarely causes demonstrable or significant harm to individuals. “According to the [Shanghai] example case,” Liu explained, “modifying routers or browser settings, locking the homepage, or using popup windows to redirect or force web users to access certain pages constitutes damaging computer information systems and may be considered a crime.”

In addition to the DNS hijacking case heard in Shanghai, the other four example cases mentioned during the press conference deal with damaging computer information systems and gambling on WeChat, China’s ubiquitous social app. “Recent years have highlighted the rising trend of cybercrimes, and many ‘traditional’ crimes are migrating onto the internet,” said Deputy Director Zhou.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: XiXinXing/VCG)