CHINA> Regional
Hacker shut down plate auction in Shanghai
By Tang Zhihao (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-12 10:33

SHANGHAI: A 22-year-old hacker has been detained for attacking the private vehicle license plate auction system in Shanghai on July 18, which caused the cancellation of the scheduled auction at the last minute, police in Shanghai said Tuesday.

The suspect surnamed Zhou from Zhejiang province was alleged to have attacked the auction system by manipulating thousands of computers during the auction, in an attempt to get a license plate at a lower price.

The attack by Zhou was called a denial-of-service attack, which means that Zhou remotely controlled thousands of computers that sent a huge number of requests to the server, which led to its breakdown, according to police investigations.

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The related departments in Shanghai have taken action to strengthen and improve the network security system to eliminate a similar problem in the future.

Shanghai is the first and only city in China to distribute a limited number of license plates through monthly auction to control the number of vehicles on the road. The price of a plate soared to a record high of 56,042 yuan ($8,100) in 2007. The recent average price for a license plate is about 30,000 yuan.

The attack was believed to have happened around 10:50-10:55 am and led the bidding price to slump to as low as 100 yuan. The trading system showed 8,834 bidders were participating in the auction during that period.

Officials at the auction hosting company announced the cancellation of the auction at 11 am, which was 30 minutes before the scheduled closing time. The cancellation was due to network problems, officials said, adding that the auction results were invalid.

The 100 yuan deposits have been returned to the bidders and the date for the next auction has not yet been determined.

The cancellation of the auction raised suspicions among the bidders, with some believing that the hosting company canceled the auction deliberately because the prices had not reached their expectations.

The bidders pointed out that the system had been working for more than 10 years and was designed to have thousands of bidders trading online at the same time.

People said they found it hard to believe that 8,834 bidders caused the breakdown of such a mature network system.

Moreover, when the hosting company claimed the attack took place, the bidders did not experience any abnormalities in logging in and bidding.

Three participants have taken action against the local transportation department and the auction company, asking the authorities to call the auction valid.

"The bidding prices should be validated and the participants who were denied access should be compensated," some netizens said.