Hackers and Their Place in the PRC Intelligence Community

China Brief, Volume: 24 Issue: 7

By: Matthew Brazil

March 29, 2024

Advertisement for the 2018 “Anxun Cup” hacking competition, jointly hosted by Sichuan Anxun (iS00N) and Chengdu University. (Source: iS00N)

Executive Summary:

  • Leaked files from iS00N reveal deep insights into the PRC’s intelligence operations, highlighting an intensified global security offensive as well as issues within the intelligence community.
  • iS00N’s growth is tied to Xi Jinping’s aggressive policies and demonstrates the importance of private contractors in fulfilling the PRC’s increased intelligence and security needs.
  • The leaks expose employee dissatisfaction and underscore iS00N’s critical role in intelligence gathering and job provision, reflecting the contractor’s complex relationship with the PRC government.
  • The exposure raises questions about the role and regulation of hacking contractors in the PRC, potentially leading to investigations and reforms that could affect the PRC’s intelligence strategy and international relations.

In the month since the leak of over 570 files from the Shanghai-based hacking contractor iS00N (安洵信息), we have seen much reporting about their company culture, leaders and clients, whom they try to recruit, and what iS00N was actually doing (some of the best analysis on the leaks and the overall nature of the threat can be read at Natto Thoughts and Recorded Future).

At the same time, the leaks are an opportunity to advance our understanding of how the opaque PRC intelligence and security community is changing. The data, which continues to be mined by various analysts, provides a window into how Beijing’s intelligence and security community (IC) is using cyberspace to meet the many threats perceived by the party. It indicates continued issues in China’s IC regarding standards, training, and discipline, while also confirming the long-held idea in the West that Beijing’s worldwide intelligence and security offensive is intensifying, while the Chinese side continues to blithely deny everything.

For the rest of the story, click here (there is no paywall)