Hackers claim to steal personal data of over a billion people in China

Hacker on a computer with a Chinese flag in the background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Hackers have reportedly stolen the data of around one billion Chinese citizens from a Shanghai police database, in what experts are calling the largest cyber security breach in the country's history.

The unidentified attackers, who have claimed they are responsible for the attack, have offered to sell over 23 terabytes of stolen data, as reported by Bloomberg.

This includes names, addresses, birthplaces, national IDs, phone numbers and criminal case information, the attackers revealed in an anonymous post on an online forum last week. The hackers were also asking for 10 bitcoin, worth around $190,000 (£159,500).

Zhao Changpen, founder and CEO of Binance, tweeted today that the company detected a breach of one billion resident records for sale on the dark web from one Asian country, although didn’t specify which country. He said that this was likely due to a bug in an ElasticSearch deployment by a government agency. As a result, Binance has increased its security verification procedures for users who have been affected.

Shanghai authorities and the Cyberspace Administration of China haven’t responded to the alleged hack so far.

The US and other nations around the world have identified China in the past as one of the world’s biggest sources of cyber criminals. New Zealand, for example, claimed in July 2021 that there were links between Chinese state-sponsored actors APT40 and malicious cyber activity in the country.

Domestic breaches in China are rarely disclosed, due to a lack of transparent reporting mechanisms. The information of dozens of Communist Party officials and industry figures like Jack Ma was said to have been exposed on Twitter in 2016, considered to be one of China’s biggest online leaks of sensitive information at the time. This was followed in 2020 by hackers claiming to have stolen account information for over 538 million users of Weibo. This year, a rights group claimed that tens of thousands of hacked files from the Xinjiang region provided evidence of the abuse of mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs.

It remains unclear how the attackers gained access to the Shanghai police servers, although online cyber security experts have predicted it might have been through the breach of a third-party cloud infrastructure partner. The country’s biggest external cloud services are provided by Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.