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Chinese court jails World of Warcraft cybercrime ring

Even fake worlds such as the World of Warcraft aren’t safe from cybercrime.

Last week, Zhejiang province’s Songyang county court sentenced 10 men to prison terms of up to two years, reports Zhejiang Online. Their crime: Hijacking more than 11,500 World of Warcraft accounts and violating state regulations banning invasive access of “ordinary computer information systems,” among other charges.

The World of Warcraft is one of the biggest massively multiplayer online role-playing games in the world, so it’s a ripe target for cybercriminals. In a November earnings report, publisher Activision-Blizzard revealed that the MMO had 7.6 million subscribers — though that’s down from the all-time high of more than 12 million in 2010.

The online thieves didn’t hack the accounts themselves; instead, they purchased the login information for the fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) through underground markets for around $1 a piece. They flipped the gold and gear, selling it to other gamers for roughly $3 per account, reportedly earning at least $10,800 in profit.

But the Chinese government confiscated the ill-gotten gains — as well as the computers they used for their nefarious activities — following the group’s sentencing. Chen, the ringleader, received two years in jail and an $8,000 fine; his cohorts each received slightly under two years and $1,000 fines.

While Chinese cybercrime is often discussed in an international context, with Chinese hackers targeting computer systems in the U.S. and elsewhere, the country has a major cybercrime problem inside its own borders. An average 700,000 Chinese web users are victims of Internet crime on a daily basis, according to a January report, which cost the country an estimated $46.4 billion last year.

It’s difficult to track the widespread police response to cybercrime, which is usually lumped alongside pornography, gambling, and other activities that cause “social harm” to the Communist Party. The vast majority of crimes go unreported, generally because they involve a small amount of money.

In late 2012, China passed a regulation that aims to strengthen protection of web users’ personal information, but it’s far from a comprehensive cybercrime law, which the country desperately needs given the economic impact of domestic cybercrime.

It certainly doesn’t help that the state helps legitimize cybercrime by using similar tactics to monitor domestic dissidents and foreign targets. Period web “crackdowns” are often arrests of human rights activists rather than organized cybercrime gangs, like that of Chen and his World of Warcraft thieves.


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