Four people have been arrested for allegedly illegally acquiring and dealing in more than 11 million items of personal information, police said. Two of the four have since been bailed.
As well as revealing details on the case, police also said yesterday that "the greatest leakers" of personal information in Shanghai are finance firms, together with real estate agencies, car dealers, medical institutions, delivery firms and educational institutions.
The four arrests involve two investment consultants, a hacker and a former employee of several investment firms.
The source of the leaked information is a suspect surnamed Wang, who worked for investment firms before turning to trading personal information, believing it to be more profitable, police added. He teamed with another suspect, a man surnamed Mou, who allegedly hacked into the computer systems of finance and investment firms for information about their clients.
They added that Wang was introduced to the other two suspects, who work for different investment consultation companies.
For information of client names and mobile phone numbers, one of them paid over 200,000 yuan (US,400) for about 300,000 items from February this year and the other paid over 800,000 yuan for about 1 million items from April last year, according to the police.
Police started to investigate the case at the end of July after receiving a tip-off. Wang and Mou have been arrested, and the other two are currently on bail.
So far this year Shanghai police say they have solved 68 cases of infringement of personal information and detained 165 suspects from over 40 gangs with about 22 million items of leaked personal information discovered.
The suspects if convicted could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison, according to China's Criminal Law.
"Any kind of illegal acquirement of other people's personal information no matter through purchasing or exchanging will be punished," said Qu Weifang, chief engineer of the cyber security squad of Shanghai Public Security Bureau.
Qu said personal information has increasingly become a commodity that is illegally traded through criminal networks.
"Hackers or company insiders steal the information and sell it to agents, and the agents further sell it to users of the information who purchase it either for marketing purposes or in frauds or blackmailing against people," Qu said.
To reduce threats to cyber security, police said they will strengthen cooperation with companies and industries that hold a large amount of personal information and instruct them to better defend their processes against hackers and suspect employees.