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Comment Icon0 On a technically advanced level, there has been some evidence suggesting that the Chinese government engages in hacking of dissident and anti-regime computer systems outside of China. Given the inherently complex nature of most computer network intrusions, it is often difficult to establish a plausible level of accountability for these hacks, making it easy for the Chinese government to deny any involvement. So far, the hacking attacks originating from China occurred against Taiwan in August 1999 and against Japan in February 2000, but these actions have been difficult to determine solely on the basis of the intrusion data (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). Against overseas Chinese dissidents, online harassment techniques have included the email bombardment of Falungong practitioners. Specifically, the personal email of group members, as well as the official Falungong email addresses, were regularly saturated with up to 20,000 emails, making it impossible to use the Internet for reliable communication (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). Similarly, in a variant of a cyber-attack known as the Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack, Falungong webpages have been repeatedly saturated with fake requests from IP addresses that do not exist, preventing other users from visiting those pages (New York Times, 2000). A similar denial-of-service attack was detected on a Falungong web server based in the United States (falunusa.net) on 27 July 1999. Back-tracking the attack revealed the source IP address of the attack to be 202.106.133.101, which was an Internet address in China. The Asia-Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) database showed the physical address of the IP address, which pointed to an innocuous-sounding organization called the “Information Service Center of XinAn Beijing”. Ironically, the actual address was revealed to be 14 East Chang’an Street in Beijing, which is that of the Ministry of Public Security. This was the same China internal security service that was shamed by the appearance of thousands of Falungong practitioners outside the central leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, in April 1999 (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002).

Comment Icon0 As a testimony to China’s prowess in cyber-warfare, a widely circulated report from the Financial Times claimed that in June 2007, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was responsible for hacking into the Pentagon’s computers. Hackers stole data and caused a shutdown of a system serving the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates (Sevastopulo, 2007). In November 2008, Financial Times also reported that Chinese hackers had penetrated the White House computer network briefly on multiple occasions, allowing them enough time to steal information before U.S. computer experts could patch their systems. Official reports speculated that the cyber-attacks follow the “grain of sands” approach used by Chinese intelligence, which involves parsing through often low-level information to find a few nuggets. During the course of these intrusions, the hackers obtained emails between government officials (Sevastopulo, 2008). In both the Pentagon and White House hacking incidents, the Chinese government would typically attack the reports as “groundless”. Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, said that “China has all along been opposed to, and forbids, criminal activities undermining computer networks, including hacking. China is ready to strengthen co-operation with other countries, including the U.S., in countering Internet crimes” (Spencer & Spillius, 2007).

Comment Icon0 From surveillance overseas back to mainland China, the 2000 U.S. State Department China Human Rights Report stated that “[the Chinese] authorities often monitor telephone conversations, fax transmissions, email and Internet communications of citizens, foreign visitors, businessmen, diplomats and journalists, as well as dissidents, activists and others” (2001). However, the extent of such monitoring and filtering is often exaggerated, since the sheer amount of online traffic within China alone makes it quite impossible to screen prohibited keywords on a national or even regional basis (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). This is why the government still has to rely on self-censorship, from both the Internet service providers as well as their users. Where monitoring is required, public security sources have stated that selective monitoring, combined with traditional surveillance methods, is a preferable and far more effective strategy (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002).

Comment Icon0 While regulating cyberspace within the PRC relies on manpower from government agencies, the Internet police as well as web companies, a newer technological component of enforcing control was introduced as the government’s “Golden Shield Project”. Some the projects for Beijing’s Golden Shield surveillance network include provisioning the ability to “see” and “hear” online on a massive scale. The technology behind the network’s ability to “hear” relied on speech signal processing to automatically monitor telephone conversations and to alert officials to specifically spoken key words and phrases. In a similar sense, video signal processing technology would give surveillance cameras the ability to “see” and recognize individual faces in a crowd of people. Both “senses” forms of digital signal processing (DSP) are termed “algorithmic surveillance” systems, which is data analysis via complex algorithms modelled on the human nervous system. Interestingly, the Department of Electronic Engineering at the prestigious Tsinghua University has been a leader in this field, having worked on it since the early 1980s. It is worth noting that both the Chinese government and Nortel Networks have financially supported such research in the late 1990s. Nortel has also been researching speech recognition technology with the FBI (Walton, 2001).

Chapter 6.1.9 – Hacking and Surveillance

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