'Chinese hackers should be more like Robin Hood'

Posted at 02/04/2013 10:32 AM | Updated as of 02/04/2013 10:34 AM

HONG KONG - China's computer hackers should rise above simple robbery and help plug online loopholes for the greater good, the head of China's top Internet security provider firm Qihoo 360 said.

The term "hackers" should not be purely one of abuse, Zhou Hongyi, chairman and CEO of Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd, said on Saturday. Hackers should be seen instead as skilled professionals able to outwit security systems.

"Some hackers have a sense of righteousness - just like Robin Hood. They are willing to share source codes with others because they believe in openness," Zhou said in an interview on the sidelines of a business event in Hong Kong.

"There are such so-called Robin Hoods in China, but the numbers are far and few," he said. "Many we see nowadays are just petty thieves committing online financial crimes."

China does have professional hackers, but many have either retired or set up their own IT consultancy firms or joined technology companies, said Zhou, who is a former executive at Yahoo China.

Qihoo 360 now derives all its revenues from the fast-growing Chinese Internet industry mainly by selling online advertisements through its browser and free security software.

But Zhou, an outspoken Chinese Internet entrepreneur, has global ambitions for the company he helped found in 2006. He hopes Qihoo 360 will become the world's No.1 security software provider, taking on global players such as Symantec Corp .

The Beijing-based company plans to tap overseas markets by buying stakes or acquiring startups and small companies that are familiar with local markets, Zhou said.

"We are open to investing in a startup company and licensing our technology knowhow to let them expand in that market. I think it's better than setting up our own office and hiring our own team."

China's firms have gained prominence on the global technology stage, but some companies, typically telecom equipment makers Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp have had problems in western markets due to concerns over cyber security.

But Zhou said he did not foresee a problem with Qihoo 360 and pointed out that Chinese mobile security provider NQ Mobile Inc as an example of having some success in overseas market, such as the United States.

"If we enter as a small player in markets like the United States, I think it'll be alright. If we grow to a size that threatens Symantec and McAfee, then I think the U.S. government might give us some problems," Zhou said.

"But we only need to think about it when we come to that point."

Qihoo's shares, which were listed in 2011 and now have a market capitalisation of around $3.6 billion, have gained 14 percent since the start of the year, after rising more than 80 percent in 2012.