Internet users in China are shocked and concerned about an alleged data breach involving the personal information of 1 billion citizens, a reminder of the enormous risks associated with the country’s surveillance state.
Last week, an anonymous user of an online cybercrime forum offered to sell more than 23 terabytes of data for 10 bitcoin, which is worth about $200,000 based on the coin’s current price, according to Reuters. The hacker, identified as “ChinaDan”, claimed the information was obtained by hacking into the Shanghai police database. According to the hacker, the data includes names, addresses, places of birth and mobile numbers of citizens.
Although the Chinese government has not spoken out on the matter, influential online figures have made their appearance. Zhao Changpeng, founder and CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Binance, tweeted on Monday (July 4) that his company discovered a leak of 1 billion citizen information from an Asian country.
Censorship hasn’t stopped online discussions about the leak
Discussions about the data breach are meanwhile censored within China. Searches for hashtags related to the issue, including #1billioncitizensdataleak, #Shanghaidataleak and #Shanghainationalpolicedatabase, returned zero results on China’s largest social media Weibo, while the news was not shown on major Chinese news websites on Tuesday.
But that hasn’t stopped many on the Chinese internet from commenting on the matter. Many users complained that they received “weird foreign phone calls” that they suspect are related to the leak, while others reminded people that the leaked data could be used for phone fraud — which is already rife in the country. People also complained about what they see as an excessive collection of personal information by the government and internet companies. “I don’t know what people are surprised about… Even a property management company can collect facial information from residents and force them to scan their faces,” said one Weibo user. “We’ve been running naked for years.”
China arguably has one of the world’s most complex and far-reaching digital surveillance systems, consisting of hundreds of millions of spy cameras, phone trackers and schemes to collect data, including voice impressions. But the technologies also mean that authorities now have a huge amount of data on hand, which is both a tool to monitor and monitor people’s speech and a liability as data breaches become more common. Internet experts have been signaling alleged data leaks of some Chinese security firms, whose data on citizens, according to the experts, was not protected. But if true, the sheer magnitude of the latest data breach would mark another milestone in the country’s information security vulnerabilities.