Long known as a prominent source of cyberattacks worldwide, China has seen the emergence of online training schools that teach students the skills necessary to either be a network defender or a cybercriminal.
These "hacker schools," as they're known, are also big business, generating $34.8 million last year, reports China Daily.
Students can enroll in online classes for as little as a few hundred yuan.
While some schools advertise themselves as training the next generation of security experts, many worry a percentage of the students will use their skills to commit various cybercrimes, such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets.
Wang Xianbing—a security consultant for a prominent online hacking school, Hackbase.com—likens the training provided by the Web site to that of the locksmith trade.
"It's like teaching lock picking," he told Beijing Today. "No one can guarantee the student will become a professional locksmith rather than a future thief."
Rather it's up to the individual and his conscience whether to use his knowledge for good or evil, Wang said. Interviewed by China Daily, he said that the company's students are explicitly told not to use their knowledge for illegal activities.
"Lots of hacker schools only teach students how to hack into unprotected computers and steal personal information," said Wang. "They then make a profit by selling users' information."
Imparting such knowledge, even with caveats, runs obvious risks. Last year alone, according to China Daily, hacking cost the Chinese economy approximately $1 billion. Globally, Symantec estimates cybercrime cost firms a total of $1 trillion in 2008, reported CNet.com in January.
But money isn't the only motivation, reports China Daily.
A 25-year-old hacker school student from Shanghai surnamed Wang, said most of his "classmates" simply enroll in hacker school for personal reasons, such as spying on relatives, showing off their computer-savvy skills or taking revenge on a rival's Websites, rather than making money.
Wang described the Catch-22 of teaching a new generation of security experts the tools of the trade: "They have to learn how to attack a Web site before they can learn how to defend it."
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