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employs an estimated 40,000-50,000 internet police
who conduct surveillance, read private e-mails and
remove banned topics. Freedom House notes “the
apparatus of the PRC’s internet control is considered
more extensive and more advanced than in any other
country in the world”.
China’s internet control strategy employs three
techniques – automated technical filtering, forced
self-censorship by service providers, and proactive
manipulation. Cognisant that it cannot control 100% of
internet content, the state tries to sway online opinion.
For example, an army of individuals are allegedly paid
half a yuan for each post that leads online discussions
in a favourable direction. There are at least a quarter
million of these ‘Fifty-Cent Party’ members.
Beijing is evidently fearful of the internet spiralling
out of control at home. Censors cannot keep up as
networking sites like Sina Weibo (with 503 million
users and 100 million posts daily) expand exponentially.
The government truly fears unified nationwide protests,
and China has come to realise the internet is a
double-edged sword. Not all Chinese internet users
are nationalistically fervent, so what if hackers and
computer experts turn into dissidents? STRATFOR
commented, “It has realised that a weapon it once
wielded so deftly against foreign powers and business
entities can now be used against Beijing.”
China on the reCeiving end
There are a host of damning critiques of nefarious
Chinese cyber activities. Of course, China could argue
that the USA does essentially the same, especially
after the embarrassing revelations from Edward
Snowden who is now facing existential oblivion in
Russia. On the other side of the coin, China’s 2010
Defence White Paper relayed its concern over foreign
powers exercising cyber-warfare activities against
itself. The government thus promised renewed efforts
to protect its cyber-security. This is vitally important as
China advances ‘informationisation’ of the PLA, since
greater reliance on computer networks creates more
vulnerability for China’s military.
Of note, on 28 February this year, China’s Ministry
of National Defence (MND) acknowledged its own
website was subject to mass attacks. An MND
spokesman said that, in 2012, the website was
attacked an average of 144,000 times a month, of
which 62.9% emanated from US IP addresses.
Another concern for China is vulnerability caused
by pirated software. As the world’s leader in pirated
goods, it is somewhat ironic that this could be an
Achilles heel for China! Pirated versions of Windows
software are used even by government departments,
and these may contain flaws or they do not receive
patches and security updates. This makes them
uniquely susceptible to intelligence collection and
hostile attacks, as the Stuxnet cyber-attack on Iran’s
centrifuge programme demonstrated.
On 13 April 2013, in a visit to Beijing, US Secretary
of State John Kerry announced the setting up of
a Sino-US cyber-security working group. It was
established on the pretext of easing tensions amidst
mutual accusations of cyber-espionage and mass
intrusions. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told
Kerry, “Cyberspace should be an area where the two
countries can increase mutual trust and cooperation.”
In the author’s opinion, however, this working group is
unlikely to have too much success in toning down the
cyber activities of either side.
With China recognising how leaks (WikiLeaks in
the case of the West) or disaffected insiders (Edward
Snowden is the topical example) can rapidly spread
around the globe, its leaders must be fearful of their
own secrets being revealed. Doubtless, China is
going to be kept busy, not only pecking away at the
firewalls of potential adversaries, but also protecting its
own networks and spying on its own staff who might
suddenly decide to spill the beans.
24/10/13 1:47 PM
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