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Every year, in the days leading up to June 4, Chinese censors scour the internet in an attempt to suppress any domestic mention of Tiananmen Square. Dissidents trying to use that date – the anniversary of the 1989 massacre – to promote pro-democracy activism are confronted by blocked sites, banned words and even disappearing candle emojis.

They also experience an uptick in malicious cyber operations. While much of this is done in the shadows, a recent restructuring of China’s cyber workforce and a documents leak reveal a hacking ecosystem in which government officials and commercial operators are increasingly working hand in hand, explains Christopher K. Tong, a China expert at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

While turning to hackers-for-profit has its drawbacks for officials – those involved have their own motivations that sometimes go beyond official policy – it does help spread the reach of China’s cyber operations, he notes.

“In short, Beijing is outsourcing its cyber operations to a patchwork army of private-sector hackers who offer their services out of a mix of nationalism and profit,” writes Tong.

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Matt Williams

Senior International Editor

Hackers-for-profit are assisting the Chinese government. Bill Hinton Photography via Getty Images

China turns to private hackers as it cracks down on online activists on Tiananmen Square anniversary

Christopher K. Tong, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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