UofT Researchers uncover Chinese Internet espionage system

The Globe and Mail is reporting today that researchers based at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies, along with two private internet security consultancies, SecDev and the Shadowserver Foundation, have uncovered a worldwide network of automated intrusion programs (or botnet) based in China. The report called Shadows in the Cloud describes how over 1300 infected computers containing information related to all kinds of material from the Dalai Lama, the Indian government and US security were linked back to Chinese sources. The authors include Greg Walton who wrote the excellent early report on China’s ‘Golden Shield’ Internet surveillance and censorship system a few years ago. It can’t be said for certain that this was a Chinese state operation: as with the attacks on Estonia from Russian sources back in 2007, suspicions just as much centre on ‘patriotic hackers’, who are just doing this out of a sense of outrage at opposition to their country’s leadership. And no doubt, this is far from the only nationally-oriented botnet system.

SHADOWS IN THE CLOUD: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0

Google does the right thing, but…

Google is, as I type this, closing down its Chinese site as the first stage of its withdrawal of service from mainland China, in response to numerous attacks on the company’s computers from hackers allegedly connected to the Chinese state and ongoing demands to provide a censored service with which they felt they could not comply. The company claims that Chinese users will still be able to use Google, only through the special Hong Kong website, http://www.google.com.hk, which for historical reasons falls outside the Chinese state’s Internet control regime. Whether this will mean that the site will actually be accessible to Chinese Net users is debateable. Some say they cannot access it already. There are also numerous ‘fake Google’ sites that have sprung up to try to make some fast cash out of the situation.

But there’s more to this of course. Google has been widely reported to have opened its doors to the US National Security Agency (NSA) in order, they say, to solve the hacking issue, but the NSA only get involved in matters of US national security – if Google is essentially saying it is effectively beholden to US intelligence policy and interests, I am not sure that this is a whole lot better than bowing to China. You can be sure as well, that once invited in, the NSA will insinuate themselves into the company. Having a proper official backdoor into Google would make things a lot easier for the NSA, especially in populating its shiny new data warehouse in Utah

China calls for better international regulation of space

…it is the USA that effectively controls earth orbit. However many other emerging economies see no reason why this should be the case….

Following last week’s collision between an obsolete Russian military satellite and an US Iridium communications satellite, there has been a lot of discussion about the management of orbital space (or, more accurately, the lack of it). Orbital positions are managed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), but the effective control of orbital space is a matter of power projection – i.e.: which country can maintain a stronger and more pervasive presence in space. With the Russian program almost defunct, and European satellites limited in number, it is the USA that effectively controls earth orbit. However many other emerging economies see no reason why this should be the case. India now has a regular launch program and in particular China is massively expanding its space presence, even making noises about its ability to destroy satellites if necessary.

China seems now to be using this incident to sound out other countries and the international scientific community about a more coherent and comprehensive international management of orbital space. In an article published on the official English-language news site, Chinadaily, various senior Chinese scientists and People’s Daily journalists are quoted in favour of “establishing a system for the promotion of space safety is an important method of space traffic management”, through “long-term cooperation from the international community”, and perhaps even a “space traffic law”, although it is acknowledged that this is “still a very remote concept”.

The one organisation that is not going to like this at all is the US military. USSTRATCOM has absorbed the space power doctrine developed in the 1990s by USSPACECOM, which argued effectively that orbital space should be part of US military plans for ‘Full-Spectrum Dominance’ (FSD) and that international projects like the International Space Station would be tolerated only insofar as they could be ‘leveraged’ to US advantage. The US military wants to maintain the ‘ultimate high ground’ that dominance of earth orbit gives them, for communications, for surveillance, for weapons targeting. They are not even very keen on the EU Galileo project, the new and more technically-advanced rival to GPS (which is a US military system).

Just as with the discussion about internationalising management of the Internet and moving it beyond US government control, any suggestions of a more comprehensive international management of space are likely to be resisted even at the expense of logic and reason. The Chinese know this very well, and are being rather cleverly provocative. They are however, right.

Quiet in the Library! Controlling the Internet

For many supposedly liberal politicians and bureaucrats the Internet is just a library of information, and we all know that libraries must be quiet and orderly, used responsibly and under the supervision of trained librarians…

Just a quick one: Boing Boing covered the story of an Australian EFF information rights campaigner, Geordie Guy, who has received a death threat from supporters of the government´s plan to control the Internet – just like so many other states around the world.

Surveillance cameras in Dajuyuan, Shenzhen (Rolling Stone)
Surveillance cameras in Dajuyuan, Shenzhen (Rolling Stone)

It is no accident that the EFF campaign in Australia makes reference to their government´s plan as a ‘great wall’.  The first government to do this was, of course, China with its jīndùn gōngchéng (‘Golden Shield’) system which was exposed by Greg Walton.

As Naomi Klein´s more recent investigations have shown, it seems that western governments and companies are not only deeply involved with supplying equipment and expertise to China´s new surveillance state, but also see the development of the combined physical and virtual surveillance infrastructure being built by the authoritarian Chinese government as some kind of model for their own supposedly more liberal nations.

The Internet seems to worry all sorts of otherwise level-headed and well-meaning people. I was invited to speak at a recent conference in Finland on security in the Baltic states, and I got into a small argument with the rapporteur of one of the working groups, who said that one of their conclusions was that ‘we’ must stamp out hate-speech on the Internet. I asked the rapporteur how they would intend to do this without destroying the structures which enabled the creativity and freedom of the Net, and the response was that stamping out hate-speech was too important and just must be done. I suspect this is how a lot of supposedly liberal politicians and bureaucrats are thinking. For them the Internet is just a library of information, and we all know that libraries must be quiet and orderly, used responsibly and under the supervision of trained librarians. If enforcing order destroys everything that makes the Internet so revolutionary and so important, so what? Order must be maintained. There must be quiet in the library!