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

They want us to trust them…

Maybe what Jacqui Smith needs is a dose of ‘Chinese democracy’ to go with her Chinese-style attitude to security and surveillance…

In the last fortnight there have been interesting developments that have reminded us, as if we needed reminding, that those who want to infringe on the liberty of others need to be absolutely squeaky-clean themselves or risk severe censure, and that those who introduce systems which encourage suspicion and spying should not be surprised if people no longer trust them and start to investigate their activities.

The first of course was the saga of Jacqui Smith’s apartment. The basic facts are that the UK Home Secretary has been claiming £24,000 (around $35,000 US) per year in allowances for an apartment that she does not actually live in. The particular irony (and we love a bit of irony in Britain!) was that she has been reported by a neighbour – in other words she was a victim of the kind of suspicious, back-stabbing, trust-no-one society that she has been encouraging. Of course she should resign if she had any intelligence or integrity, but we already know to the cost of our civil liberties that she does not.

Funnily enough, it is to China we go to another example and one with, it seems, a rather more accountable outcome. This is almost the second time in a row that I have unfavourably compared a western country to China – this is getting rather disturbing particularly as I am no friend of the Chinese state, being a long-term Free Tibet supporter. However, Variety (of all places) is reporting that Yu Bing, who is director of the internet monitoring department of Beijing’s Public Security Bureau, and therefore a major figure in the infamous Golden Shield, and surveillance of journalists, bloggers and net democracy activists (as well as those just trying to access unapproved content), has been arrested for taking bribes from a contractor.

Admittedly it is a lot more than the sums in the Jacqui Smith case (40M Yuan, or about $5.8M US), and corruption is endemic within the Chinese state at all levels, but it does show a rather different attitude to the establishment towards top officials who fail to live up to the standards we expect of them. Maybe what Jacqui Smith needs is a dose of ‘Chinese democracy’ to go with her Chinese-style attitude to security and surveillance?

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!