China’s controversial internet filter ‘full of holes’

June 15th, 2009 - 4:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, June 15 (DPA) China has ordered software producers to create security patches following reports that its controversial new internet filtering system could allow remote monitoring and control of users’ computers, and the stealing of personal information, state media said Monday.
“The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told us to make the software safer after a series of security vulnerabilities were found,” the official China Daily quoted Zhang Chenmin, manager of Jinhui Computer System Engineering, as saying.

Jinhui’s programmers were “working non-stop in collaboration with domestic anti-virus programme experts” to develop the security patches, Zhang said.

Jinhui helped to develop the Green Dam Youth Escort software, which the government said was needed to filter out pornographic content but is apparently also designed to consolidate existing blocks on politically sensitive websites.

The government has ordered computer manufacturers to pre-install Green Dam on all new computers from July 1.

Officials have already installed the software on some 2.6 million computers in schools, and the company has also recorded 7.2 million downloads of the free software, the newspaper said.

Zhang was quoted as saying hackers could attack internet users through Green Dam “just like any other software of this type”.

“We are specialists in producing internet filtering software rather than security,” he said.

The newspaper quoted J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, as saying Green Dam will be “a disaster for computer security in China” unless the security problems are fixed.

Halderman and his colleagues in Michigan University produced an analysis of the new “censorware system” after testing it, concluding that “anyone can exploit the security flaws”.

“We have tested attacks that allow someone to see what is on the user’s screen or make remote copies of the user’s files,” Halderman told the newspaper.

He added that the problems appeared to be the result of programming errors, it said.

The newspaper said more than 80 percent of Internet users who responded to online surveys by the popular website said they will not use the software or would uninstall it from their computers.

State media have also criticised the government’s plans to use the software.

“Nobody would oppose the government issuing a new policy on blocking pornographic content on the Internet, but the best way is to label this and let people make their own choice,” the Beijing News said in a commentary last week.

“We cannot deny that there are dirty corners on the web, but meanwhile we should not develop a dangerous sense that software can do everything for society,” the commentary said.

China blocks hundreds of websites that are deemed politically sensitive and tries to keep content broadly in line with the ruling Communist Party’s ideology.

Tens of thousands of smaller internet cafes have been closed in recent years, with the government favouring large chains that can be relied upon to monitor and control online activity.

Evidence from postings on websites has also been used in the conviction of several dissidents.

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