Hacker exposes alleged Olympics age fraud

Security researcher digs into Google and Baidu to find evidence of Chinese gymnasts' ages and finds evidence disappearing as he works, like sand shifting under his feet.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

A security researcher has unearthed evidence via Google and its Chinese counterpart that supports claims that several Chinese gymnasts are younger than they should be for competing.

The New York Times was probably the first to report about digital evidence that the Chinese athletes are underage.

"Online records listing Chinese gymnasts and their ages that were posted on official Web sites in China, along with ages given in the official Chinese news media, however, seem to contradict the passport information, indicating that He (Kexin) and Jiang (Yuyuan) may be as young as 14--two years below the Olympic limit," stated the Times article, posted about three weeks ago.

Then last week, the Associated Press found evidence of its own--a Xinhua state news agency report listing He's age as 13 just nine months before the Olympics began. The AP saved a copy of the Web page, which it said could not be accessed later in the day.

Stryde uses Google Translate on a document found in the Baidu search engine indicating that Chinese Olympic gymnast He Kexin was born in 1994 and thus below the required age to compete in the Beijing Games. Click the image above for a larger version. Stryde

This week security researcher "Stryde Hax" detailed his findings about discrepancies in the gymnasts' ages that he found via his own Internet searches. The data he gathered bolsters the claims made by the Times and the AP.

Stryde, who says he is a consultant at security firm Intrepidus Group, wrote on Tuesday about how he searched Chinese Web sites for Excel spreadsheets containing "He Kexin" and "1994," which is her alleged birthday, according to some of the uncovered Internet evidence.

Stryde found only one result, on an official Chinese government sports site, but when the result was clicked on, the page had been removed, and He's name had been removed from the cached results.

Stryde had a similar experience searching on Baidu, China's most popular search engine, except that he found that two spreadsheets with the 1994 birth year for He remained in the cache. He asked readers to mirror the caches and post them online to thwart attempts by the Chinese government to deny the existence of the evidence.

On Wednesday, Stryde had a follow-up entry on his blog, in which he details what happened when he ran his search on Google.cn, Google's Chinese-language search site. There he found the original spreadsheet he found the day before and another one. A few hours later, when he checked, however, the original spreadsheet had been removed. He then found the result in Baidu.

Stryde's conclusions are insightful and chilling: "What is this post really about? I don't really feel that it's about the gymnastics age limit, or even really about whether fraud occurred. At this point, I believe that any reasonable observer already understands that age records have been forged. This story now is really about Internet censorship, the act of removing evidence while at the same time claiming that the evidence is wrong. For the first time, I watched search records shift under my feet like sand, facts draining down a hole in the Internet. Will this stand?"

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