China Arrests 4 Who Weaponized ChatGPT for Ransomware Attacks

The police arrested two suspects in Beijing and two in Inner Mongolia.

The individuals confessed to creating variations of ransomware, enhancing the software through the utilization of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, carrying out vulnerability scans, infiltrating networks to secure access, deploying ransomware, and engaging in extortion.

Chinese media has reported the country’s first major step towards countering the use of ChatGPT as four Chinese individuals have been arrested for developing ransomware using ChatGPT. This is the country’s first instance involving the popular yet officially banned chatbot.

The arrests should not come as a surprise, as cybercriminals have been eager to exploit the AI chatbot for malicious purposes. Those who could not exploit it have created their own versions of the malicious ChatGPT, infamously known as WormGPT and FraudGPT.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the cyber attackers came under the authorities’ radar after an unidentified company in Hangzhou reported a cybercrime. The hackers demanded 20,000 Tether to unblock/restore access to their systems.

In late November 2023, the police arrested two suspects in Beijing and two in Inner Mongolia. The suspects admitted to writing ransomware versions, optimizing the program using the popular chatbot, conducting vulnerability scans, infiltrating networks to gain access and implanting ransomware, and performing extortion.

The use of ChatGPT, a chatbot developed by OpenAI, is prohibited in China as part of Beijing’s initiatives to limit access to foreign generative artificial intelligence products. In response, China has introduced its own version of ChatGPT named Ernie Bot. However, the report does not provide clear information on whether utilizing ChatGPT is subject to legal charges in China.

According to SCMP’s report, three of the detainees were previously implicated in other criminal activities, including spreading misinformation and selling stolen CCTV footage through deep fake technology.

Despite OpenAI blocking internet protocol addresses in China, Hong Kong, and sanctioned regions such as North Korea and Iran, certain users find ways to bypass these restrictions by using VPNs and obtaining phone numbers from supported areas. However, engaging in such circumvention practices may expose users to potential legal consequences.

Legal cases involving the use of generative AI have increased in China due to its mass popularity and potential for crimes. In May 2023, reportedly, a man was detained in Gansu province for allegedly using ChatGPT to spread fake news about a train crash.

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