It’s tough being a cyber spy. You don’t get to do any real spy work — by which we mean shoot a gun, or sneak around dark mansions, or race around in BMWs — but instead face a daily 8 to 5:30 grind in front of computers, probably in cubicles.
We know this because Barbara Demick and the Los Angeles Times have found a blog kept by a 25-year-old hacker, a computer whiz who goes into work at 8:30 am in a military uniform and often stays late — because, you know, office jobs suck.
With no money and little free time, he found solace on the Internet. He shopped, chatted with friends and courted a girlfriend. He watched movie and television shows. He drew particular inspiration from the Fox series “Prison Break,” and borrowed its name for his blog.
The blog provides a rare peek into the secretive hacking establishment of the Chinese military, which employs thousands of people in what is believed to be by far the world’s largest institutionalized hacking operation.
In the blog, the young man, surnamed Wang, does a lot of poetic complaining, par for the course for bloggers:
“Fate has made me feel that I am imprisoned,” he wrote in his first entry on Sina.com. “I want to escape.”
He posted about 625 entries between 2006 and 2009.
“What I can’t understand is why all the work units are located in the most remote areas of the city,” Wang wrote in an entry in 2007. “I really don’t get what those old guys are thinking in the beginning. They should at least take us young people into consideration. How can passionate young people like us handle a prison-like environment like this?”
And despite being very competent at his work, he received, it seems, little recognition from his superiors:
“If we’re lucky enough, we might be able to complete this year’s target and earn a year-end bonus for everyone,” Wang wrote with enthusiasm.
Otherwise, Wang poured out his unhappiness. The hackers were required to speak English, the international language of technology, as well as an essential for phishing attacks on mostly U.S. targets. But when Wang tried to hone his English skills by reading magazines such as the Economist and Harvard Business Review, his boss rebuked him for reading too much foreign press.
“The boss doesn’t understand. I’ll have to be more careful,” he complained. Wang was also unhappy that supervisors refused to reimburse him for a $1 bus ticket to attend a business conference, while his boss claimed more than $100 for a bottle of liquor.
Who can’t empathize?
He also really regretted his career choice, like a lawyer:
“My only mistake was that I sold myself out to the country for some minor benefits and put myself in this embarrassing situation,” he wrote. With the help of his family, he managed to get out in 2008. He stopped writing the blog a year later.
Chinese hackers: they’re just like us. Only, you know, wearing PLA uniforms in the office, and hated on by Mandiant, everyone else.