The Chinese government is cracking down on home-grown cyber thieves seeking to steal online banking details.

The crackdown combats phishing by ensuring that the websites of legitimate banks appear at the top of search results.

The move comes as the personal details of more than 45 million Chinese people were stolen in separate attacks.

The government is investigating the thefts and said that the wave of attacks “threatened internet safety”.

Crime spree

The 10 biggest search engines in China have signed up to the anti-phishing scheme to ensure that users looking for bank websites go to the right place.

Phishing attacks involve messages that look like they come from a bank or other organisation and direct people to a website that mimics the real thing.

When people visit the fake site and enter their login details these are recorded by cyber criminals who may loot the account soon afterwards.

By ensuring that the websites of banks appear first, the government hopes to limit the numbers of people falling for phishing scams and visiting the fake sites.

Some of the search engines will put a special icon next to the bank links in lists of results to flag them as legitimate.
Hacked accounts

The anti-phishing initiative comes at the end of a week in which the personal details of almost 10% of China’s 485 million web users were stolen.

On Christmas day, the hugely popular Tianya chat site revealed that the login names and passwords from 40 million of its users had been stolen. All risk being plundered by attackers as the information was held in plain text.

Tianya has contacted the affected users and urged them to change their passwords as soon as possible.

Soon after, CDSN, one of China’s largest forums for programmers, reported that the details of all its six million users had been stolen. The attackers got away with email addresses, login names and passwords. Again, all the details were stored in plain text.

The scale of the attacks prompted government action and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said it would investigate who was behind the attacks.

“The department believes the recent leak of user information is a serious infringement of the rights of internet users and threatens internet safety,” the Ministry said in a statement.

The Chinese government is known to have put in place technology that monitors online chat rooms for controversial topics but the far-reaching measures have not stopped all nefarious cyber activity.

As well as criminal hackers, many activists are turning to the web to make protests more visible.

The website of Menginu, a firm at the centre of a tainted milk scandal, was vandalised and its homepage image replaced with text that read “Do you have a conscience?”.