“How the NSA Caught the Lanxiang Hackers”

One hopes that the US’s National Security Administration agents are smarter than they come off in the translated post below, but you never know! In any event, this joke has been being passed around the Chinese internet, and can be found here, among other places. Some netizens have interpreted as fact, which I discuss and dismiss in my analysis, below the translation. But, if nothing else, it sheds some light on the amount of derision the US’s hacking accusations against Lanxiang, a poorly-regarded vocational school, have been met with in China.

Translation

Actually, the American NSA agents made themselves up as Chinese netizens and asked around [about the hacking] on internet forums about military affairs: ‘who were the hackers behind Google?’ A Chinese netizen became aware of their identity, and cursed, responding, “Stupid c**t American spy, LXJX”, and after that all the replies below it were similar to that one.

[LXJX is an acronym for 楼下继续, or lou xia ji xu, i.e. “the next person (person posting next on an internet forum) continue”.]

The American department, having found a rare treasure, researched all day but couldn’t understand what LXJX meant. So they searched on Google, and the first result was Lanxiang Vocational School, so they went with that!

If you don’t believe, you can try it:

Google search for LXJX, Lanxing is the first result

Thoughts

Some netizens, including our own commenter Wrath, seem to be taking this post at face value, but it is rather obviously a joke. The lack of a link to the original thread makes it dubious enough — certainly, if it had actually happened, someone would be able to find it online. More damning, though, is the fact that “LXJX” isn’t actually a particularly common acronym on Chinese forums. It’s nowhere to be found on the rather exhaustive ChinaSMACK glossary of internet slang, and Baidu returns precious few results (5,140) for the term, most of which have to do with this joke specifically. For comparison’s sake, “LZ” (an internet slang term for 楼主, equivalent to OP in English internet slang) returns over 35 million results. But perhaps the strongest evidence against it being real is that many Chinese netizens clearly don’t get it: the first result for “LXJX” on Baidu is by a netizen who had read the joke asking what LXJX meant (and he wasn’t the only one). In fact, pretty much everything Baidu turns up for “LXJX” is a reference to the post translated above, not a usage of LXJX as actual online slang meaning “next poster, continue”.

It seems infinitely more likely that the joke was reverse-engineered. Netizens figured out what search term would lead to a #1 hit on Google.cn and designed the joke from there, settling on LXJX as it is Lanxiang’s URL address and also easily converted into a short acronym.

In short: interesting, yes. Amusing, yes. But true? Not even a little bit.

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0 thoughts on ““How the NSA Caught the Lanxiang Hackers””

  1. @ Pug_ster: Never said the accusations against Lanxiang were true, just that this joke isn’t true.

    My guess is whoever really hacked Google intentionally left a trail that led to Lanxiang School, but wasn’t actually from there. It’s a brilliant tactic, because if they fool the US — which apparently they did — they change the whole news story. It’s no longer “Chinese hack google and steal private information”, it’s “the US is making unfounded accusations” and everyone forgets the original issue.

    Which is a real thing, and concerning.

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  2. The reverse-engineering theory doesn’t work, because most Chinese netizens get the joke. Why would it be funny at all if it were really such an uncommon acronym to use?

    If I used the same logic as you, could I say that you’re trying to invalidate the possibility that the Americans were making unfounded accusations in the first place?

    Let me go further with that line of thought: what if I declared that the NSA was behind the hacking? What if I claimed that it was a false-flag operation to attract negative attention to China? Your media’s certainly been painting China as this evil faceless enemy of the free world’s internet recently; is this at all unlikely? And could I say that “analysts point to the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, which employs several thousand, if not tens of thousands of hackers from across the country, many of whom joined to avoid legal prosecution as a consequence of past cybercrimes”? And if you said I’m being ridiculous (the part about the hackers is “widely known” too, to borrow a word from Western media), are you then trying to deflect the accusation from “the Americans are trying to manipulate public opinion” to “evil godless commie yellow peril is COMIN’ TO DESTROY OUR FREEDOM”, and everyone forgets the original issue?

    As far as us civilians are concerned, the Americans haven’t got any more evidence than I do.

    Let’s face it: China is an easy target for the media, kinda like the Jews and the blacks in the past however many decades. Economy’s crap? Blame China. Computer caught a virus? Blame China. American company told China to use toxic paint on toys? Still blame China. Seriously, in all likelihood, this is nothing more than the media trying to whip up a sensationalist shitstorm across the “free world” (to be fair though, that’s how they make money), but I’d be quite surprised if you actually bought into this, and is supporting the American claim without any hard evidence.

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  3. @ chaji, if it’s so common, how is it that somehow search engines don’t seem to know about it and the few things they do find all have to do with the joke.

    Granted, I don’t spend a ton of time on BBS forums or anything, but I’ve never seen anyone say LXJX…

    As for buying into it, please? What, you think China doesn’t hack into all types of American things, all the time? Give me a break. Obviously, I’d like to see some evidence — not that I’d really understand it if I did — but the idea is very plausible. If you think ALL governments aren’t conducting cyber espionage in this manner, you’re fooling yourself. China does it, and certainly so does the US.

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  4. well, that’s what i thought.
    LXJX actually is sometime used in Baidu but not impossible.
    But that was not the point, the point is that how can a low level Vocational school which is for those who can’t dominate the regular education could be considered to be a hacker training center?
    That is hilarious…
    Once the New York Times or American Military Agency did investigation of it, there is no way to conclude the result they got for now.
    Spend some time on searching the responding of Chinese Web Users, you will got idea how funny the news is.
    New York Times is shamed again for their unwisely propaganda strategy.
    It doesn’t matter whether the media is telling a lie, but question is the lie must be unchallengeable.
    If you still believe the LXJX could be a hacker training center, just go and have a trip to Shan Dong, you are going to figure that out. =w=

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  5. “The reverse-engineering theory doesn’t work, because most Chinese netizens get the joke. Why would it be funny at all if it were really such an uncommon acronym to use?”

    Actually, it seems that it wasn’t funny, considering that, as he said, there were only 5000 search results, the first of which being a “wtf does this mean?” post.

    Since we’re making mindless conjectures, could I also build upon this house of cards and say that the NSA was actually setting up the Chinese by accusing a vocational school in order to lull the true perpetrators into a false sense of security so they could eventually assassinate them just like the Israelis did to that guy in Dubai? The possibilities are endless!

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  6. Custer:

    Never said the accusations against Lanxiang were true, just that this joke isn’t true.

    Since when a joke has to be true?

    chaji,

    If I used the same logic as you, could I say that you’re trying to invalidate the possibility that the Americans were making unfounded accusations in the first place?

    The only thing which is true is that the attacks come from the ip address from that school. Somebody could’ve put some spyware in some computer in that school, it could be anyone, whether an American or Chinese who planted the spyware. The Washington Post and NY times made assumptions that someone from that school did the attack and some of these people are from the PLA. This vocational school only teaches basic computer literacy. If some smart hacker wants to hack google, wouldn’t he/she would cover his tracks and not use their own computers to do it?

    Second, according to an CNN article, google actually set up a backdoor for US government agencies to access the same information that the hackers did. If it was the real problem it is google for making a backdoor so ‘open.’

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  7. It was once pretty easy to hack and use the networks of America universities. I have no doubt that it is easy to manipulate the networks of small vocational Chinese schools. Anyway, the data the NSA that was leaked to the NY times was that they traced the IP address back to these schools, Shanghai Jiotong University and Lanxiang.

    “According to this NY Times article, the school that Yinan has occasionally taught at was discovered to have been involved in the Google compromise revealed last month. At this point, it is only the IP addresses that seem to link the school to the compromise but it is an interesting coincidence that one of the most prolific Chinese hackers [Peng Yinan] has a close connection to the school [Shanghai Jiotong].
    http://www.thedarkvisitor.com/2010/02/shanghai-jiaotong-named-as-a-source-in-google-compromise/

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  8. Let me put it this way: The Chinese government recruits students to police the internet. What exactly prevents the government to hire students to hack foreign networks?

    If I understand correctly, what was attempted to hack were among other things the e-mail accounts of Chinese dissidents. If it was students who hacked, how did they get the e-mail addresses of the dissidents, if not from Chinas friendly, purely defensive state security organs?

    Why would bored teenagers hack and then only draw selective data, instead of taking the whole thing (down), if not precisely instructed what to look for?

    The one who has the benefit of this hacking is the most likely perpetrator. To students there is no benefit, but money and grades. Go figure.

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  9. Thomas,

    Yes there is certainly a motive for the Chinese government to access these dissidents’ accounts. Then again, we heard the ‘yellowcake’ excuse for the US to go to the war with Iraq. Also, the US government complaint is to NOT to prevent future hackings from happening, but as an excuse to stop censorship in China, which makes no sense at all.

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  10. *sigh*….for the fifty bazillionth time, no one’s comments get censored. If you posted a comment and it hasn’t shown up, it either got picked up automatically by the spam filter or your internet connection has a problem and the form didn’t send properly.

    There’s nothing you wrote in the spam filter, so I’m going to go with the other thing.

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  11. The point is not whether this is a joke or not. It certainly IS a joke.

    The point is, some American agencies and company didn’t even bother ask an average Chinese folk what a common Chinese person would respond if he heard an unknown vocational school hacked Google. The accusation sounds totally groundless and ridiculous in a Chinese ear that whoever made it seriously becomes a laughing stock instantly.

    But the accusation was probably not meant to be heard by Chinese people. It’s used to make its OWN people feel better (and more righteous) after all.

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  12. It might be a so so school, but the equipment was surely good enough to route hacking through. If anything, it was just an easy and practical first step in throwing off the scent.

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  13. Some investigating should be done to see if a secret lair is hidden deep below LanXiang Vocational School, fully equipped with laser eye-scanners, a high-speed elevator in a phonebooth, and a household items weapons training facility (that surely has to be a Chinglish translation). Maybe the NSA can google”secret hidden lair China” for a headstart…. they’ll be surprised to see it leads to a youtube of Hitler… so the Chinese have been hiding Hitler the whole time!!!!

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  14. China does not innvovate it can only copy technology. Thats the curse
    of communism in any country without free thinking your innovate and response
    to problems is as good as those who rule you.

    Like

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