Has China Hacked Southeast Asian Online Gambling Firms?

Online Gambling

Chinese hackers are said to have increasingly attacked Southeast Asian online gambling providers since summer 2019 to steal their databases and source codes.

According to the technology news portal Zdnet.com (link in English), citing the latest reports from the IT security companies Talent-Jump and Trend Micro, long-term cyber attacks against regional gaming companies are a so-called “advanced persistent threat” ( APT, dt. Advanced, ongoing threat) with the name “DRBControl”.


What is an advanced persistent threat?

ATPs are systematic attacks on complex IT infrastructures that are operated with great effort. Due to their complexity, experts assume that only states or hackers with state support can probably be responsible for the attacks.

In the case of the “DRBControl” attacks, the trail leads to China, since the techniques were very similar to the methods of the hacker groups “Winnti” and “Emissary Panda”, which are said to have been active in the interest of the Chinese government in the past.

However, it is currently not possible to prove that Beijing actually ordered the attacks.


What did the hackers want?

The goal of the hackers was to penetrate the critical infrastructure of Southeast Asian online bookmakers and online casino operators and to steal their system information.

For this purpose, “DRBControl” sent malware to the companies via email.

Once in the systems, the hackers would have used programs to monitor network traffic and passwords, among other things.

Hacking tools were also used that allow the theft of source codes and databases.

The hackers did not aim for money. IT experts therefore assume organized cyber espionage rather than financially motivated cybercrime.


Online gambling in Europe also targeted by hackers?

Although it is not yet known which gambling companies were attacked by the hackers, the danger does not appear to be regionally limited. So far, the technology analysts could only detect cyber attacks in Southeast Asia.

However, there are increasing rumors that online gambling companies in the Middle East and Europe could also be victims. It could become clear in the next few months whether well-known European gaming groups were affected by “DRBControl”.


China in conflict with gaming providers

The People's Republic of China has expressed surprisingly clear criticism of gaming companies and providers based in the Philippines. According to a statement by the Chinese embassy, ​​the gambling providers would target Chinese citizens directly with their advertising and would not adequately protect them. Even though gambling is expressly forbidden in China. The island government has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese government since the Philippines became a real gambling paradise.


Official statement from the Chinese embassy – Online Gambling

With clear and unambiguous words, the Chinese government recently cleared its anger at the behavior of some online gambling companies and providers based in the Philippines. In an official statement by the Chinese government, which was published by the Chinese embassy in the capital Manila in the Philippines, the approach of online casinos as well as land-based casinos was criticized, which do not adequately protect Chinese employees, but instead mainly wealthy Chinese for high -Roller games would advertise – even though gambling is expressly prohibited in China. The statement states:

The clear criticism from China shows how much the Philippines has been a thorn in the side of the People's Republic since the island state has developed into a real gaming paradise. In addition to the offers from land-based casinos and sports betting providers, online casinos in particular are a danger to the Chinese population. Especially since most online casinos are in Chinese hands and are only registered via the Philippines. In the past three years alone, there have been almost 60 new Filipino gaming licenses for online casinos.


Via smartphone: online gambling offers for high rollers

The Chinese government has accused the gaming providers of luring Chinese people into gambling in various ways, for example online or by telephone. China tries to counteract this with network closures and a strict ban on gambling, but the state blockades have been broken in many places.

This happens, for example, via smartphones, through which the players can set money at Filipino sports betting providers and follow the sporting events in the live stream. Likewise, the lure offers are aimed at wealthy Chinese, who can play for high sums with their own live dealers on their smartphones in the so-called high roller area.

This area is particularly lucrative for gaming providers, which is why the Chinese authorities estimate that this area accounts for over 40 percent of the one billion US dollar VIP market. The billions spent are then used abroad for criminal activities such as money laundering.


Chinese employees at risk?

Chinese authorities estimate that around 100,000 Chinese citizens are employed by the Filipino gaming companies. They are used primarily for direct contact with potential Chinese gaming customers. China expressed fears that Chinese employees could be involved in the criminal activities and activities of the shady gambling operators.

In interviews and reports, it is repeatedly reported that the Chinese employees' passports were withdrawn and they were forced to underpaid hard work six days a week. According to the Chinese embassies, these machinations are comparable to “modern slavery”. China also made a clear threat. If the illegal machinations of the gaming companies were not stopped immediately, they would be severely punished by the People's Republic of China. The Filipino authorities have reacted in the recent past and set up a special unit of tax investigators on the shady companies, which are suspected, among other things, of having passed the tax office large amounts of millions. However, whether this step is sufficient for the Chinese authorities in view of the clear statement remains more than questionable.

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