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China Security

Best Practice: Travel Light To China 334

Hugh Pickens writes "What may once have sounded like the behavior of a raving paranoid is now considered standard operating procedure for officials at American government agencies, research groups and companies as the NY Times reports how businesses sending representatives to China give them a loaner laptop and cellphone that they wipe clean before they leave and wipe again when they return. 'If a company has significant intellectual property that the Chinese and Russians are interested in, and you go over there with mobile devices, your devices will get penetrated,' says Joel F. Brenner, formerly the top counterintelligence official in the office of the director of national intelligence. The scope of the problem is illustrated by an incident at the United States Chamber of Commerce in 2010 when the chamber learned that servers in China were stealing information from four of its Asia policy experts who frequently visited China. After their trips, even the office printer and a thermostat in one of the chamber's corporate offices were communicating with an internet address in China. The chamber did not disclose how hackers had infiltrated its systems, but its first step after the attack was to bar employees from taking devices with them 'to certain countries,' notably China. 'Everybody knows that if you are doing business in China, in the 21st century, you don't bring anything with you,' says Jacob Olcott, a cybersecurity expert at Good Harbor Consulting. 'That's "Business 101" — at least it should be.'"
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Best Practice: Travel Light To China

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @09:27AM (#39018049)

    This is done in every totalitarian country. For example, when David Smick [amazon.com] was in Singapore, he called home and made a comment about being dissatisfied with the hotel room provided to him. When he was picked up the next day, the person "escorting" him apologized for his hotel room not being good.

    Here in the States, we're monitored under the auspices of the "War on Drugs" or Terrorism or Child Porn or what have you. When folks say we live in a free country, I have to ask, "Is being monitored being Free?" The fact that I have to show id to buy suphedrine because a couple of addicts burnt their houses down is freedom? (As an aside, I live in white trash America and there has been maybe one meth lab in my area that has been raided in the last decade. One. But yet people and the police act like there's one on every block.)

    In this day and age, the tin foil hat brigade are usually right

  • this is old news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @09:30AM (#39018071)

    If you travel to China, this is old news.

    Yes, some businesses are beginning to require wiped travel laptops for entering the US. I have to say that I do not know anyone personally who has had laptop issues at the US border (although I know that there are some people who are on some sort of list and have them frequently). The assumption is, if you go to China, you will probably be hacked, and it's not going to happen at Customs.

    By the way, in my experience Chinese firms are incredibly paranoid about this, much more so than US firms. I suspect that paranoia has some justification.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @09:35AM (#39018107)
    Or anywhere in the world.
    General rule of thumb when traveling is to always travel light and poor. The more valuable things you bring with you the more liability that you are lugging around, which may be stolen, confiscated, or make you prime bate to be kidnapped.
    Sure you may be street smart enough in your area to see the difference between a criminal and an honest folk, but in a different culture you are green all over again, and prime bate. Even if you are going across the US. In the country and need assistance often you can get help from those guys walking down the street with large riffles in hand (as they are probably just hunting) for those who live in the country these people are not threatening they are just out having a good time. In the City you should avoid the guy walking down the street with a riffle.
    Or up in the Northeast, People usually go straight to business with less pleasantries, down south there is more talk and gentlemen behavior. For a Northern folk if someone comes up to you and starts talking all friendly like, you get warning bells that this guys is trying to distract you. If down south someone gets straight to business this guy is just being rude and hiding information so you shouldn't trust him.
  • Yep this is a point on which it is fair to say that America is no better.

    The only safe way to take devices there is to wipe your devices clean (an uncertain and damaging act on flash storage) and carry a hard drive with a deniable hidden encrypted partition (including duress key to unlock a decoy partition) containing backups of the devices. Or store the backup online (connecting with an anti-MITM system and using proper encryption of course, that means ONLY YOU have the key and there is no "recovery" option) if you have a shit-ton of bandwidth and time.

    Even then they may take your hardware and do who-knows-what to it, as happened to Moxie Marlinspike's phone. Or you may just not get it back at all.

  • Re:I wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @09:47AM (#39018181)

    ...if people traveling from Russia or China to here are told the same thing?

    1) Our security forces focus exclusively on taking peoples shoes off, punishing them for traveling by irradiating travelers, and molest traveling women and children. Definitely the laughingstock of the world's security and customs personnel.

    2) Russia occasionally innovates something worth stealing (occasionally...) but China never innovates. Individual Chinese visit the US to go to research colleges etc and innovate, but nothing comes out of China worth stealing. Other than plots to put melamine in baby formula and lead paint on kids toys, can anyone think of anything they've done that the west wants that isn't just copying the west? Also what would we do with something we stole from them, outsource it right back to them anyway? Russia is corrupt enough that nothing happens there that isn't at least tangentially involved in organized crime, so if you stole a "whatever" from them, you can safely assume you'll and/or your family will end up dead, which is in some ways better than our IP system and in some ways worse.

  • by ios and web coder ( 2552484 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @09:49AM (#39018201) Journal

    Yep this is a point on which it is fair to say that America is no better.

    I'm not sure I'd agree with that.
    This is a case of them planting trojans on your equipment in China, then exercising that, when you get back to the US.
    In the US, this can be (and I'm sure, is) done by folk like the CIA and NSA. However, folks like me don't do it. Foreigners can come to my office, exchange files and information, use my network, and even use my USB fobs with no worries that I'll plant spyware on their machines (I am quite capable of doing so, as, I'm sure, are a significant number of /. readers).
    To have it so prevalent in a nation is a serious, serious indictment. The NSA does not come to my office and demand that I arbitrarily plant trojans on our partners' and customers' machines. If they did, I would fight them fang, tooth and claw.
    What is happening in China is very dangerous. Not just for us, but also for the Chinese. They may think they have this tiger by the tail, but they will really be shocked when it turns around and bites them.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:05AM (#39018319)

    If down south someone gets straight to business this guy is just being rude and hiding information so you shouldn't trust him.

    I spent a year in the south in the 90s and the reason is people see themselves as instruments of tradition. Historically mobility was low in the south, so a simple business transaction well become a lifetime economic marriage, so there's lots of courting going on. Your GGGgrandpa and his GGGgrandpa probably served in the same civil war regiment, and in fact there probably is a distant genealogically tenuous connection between you two assuming you're genuine southern natives. If nothing bad happens, your kids might very well be expected to continue the business transaction. Also there exists a massive gossip network such that you can assume everyone is all into your business, so if they truly don't know you, they will be mystified as to what you're up to simply due to curiosity. I heard some hilarious jokes that probably only make sense in the rural south about old forgetful people simply relying on their gossip hound neighbors to remind them of stuff, like a human peer to peer network. In the go go go north economic transactions are more of a one night stand or fling at most, so no one cares what church if any you attend, or what military unit you or your GGGgreatgrandpa served in. Its an article of faith amongst the southerners I knew that tradition and reputation (both individual and familial) are extremely valuable, they believe in that about as much as their church, more or less.

    Northern business transactions are like a single hand of poker. Southern business transactions are like a multigenerational game of chess or Go. Before you freak out, obviously these stereotypes are only about 75% accurate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:08AM (#39018365)

    No, it's more the whole "err teh us is evler thn evrybdy else!!!!" drivel. Nobody does espionage like the Chinese, and you know it. Hell, it was a joke at an old job, go into china, turn your phone on, and watch it light up for a good 20 minutes while they downloaded the entire contents of your phone. Oddly enough, I've never seen that happen when I re-enter the US. The US isn't sneaky about it, they just confiscate what they want.

    Throw in stuff like how hwawei equipment is banned for deployment in the US, as well as India and several other countries, and at some point, even the biggest idiots amongst us have to start admitting that saying china gets a pass because the US does bad stuff too is sort of like saying hitler and stalin weren't so bad because Teddy Roosevelt liked to hunt.

  • Re:I wonder... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 1s44c ( 552956 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:13AM (#39018421)

    1) Our security forces focus exclusively on taking peoples shoes off, punishing them for traveling by irradiating travelers, and molest traveling women and children. Definitely the laughingstock of the world's security and customs personnel.

    Commiting minor sexual assult as a matter of routine isn't considered a laughing matter in most countries, it's considered sick.

    2) ...China never innovates...

    That's the pro-US point of view is it? Who do you think has been supporting the mighty US empire with loans for the last few decades? Who does the US now owe more to than it could ever hope to pay back?

    Off the top of my head china invented gunpower and fireworks, paper money, the use of iron, and china ( The stuff cups are made out of ).

  • by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:37AM (#39018663)

    The Chinese "middle class" surpassed the population of the entire United States or Europe several years ago. Sure, that still leaves roughly a billion poor people, but with nearly a half-billion doing well, they have some serious internal market power. This also bodes well for political change within China.... a half-billion people with iPhones (or clones) and cars are going to start asking why they don't have more control over their lives at some point.

    Of course, with twice as many people stuck in rural poverty while seeing a growing bourgeoisie, there's another potential road to political change....

  • The NSA does not come to my office and demand that I arbitrarily plant trojans on our partners' and customers' machines. If they did, I would fight them fang, tooth and claw.

    Consider the AT&T interception room, the people working there weren't as upstanding as you. I know it's server-side spying rather than client-side but it's not much better.

    Also consider the laws that allow the US government unfettered access to Gmail, Blackberry comms., cellular data...is that so different from the Chinese government asking Chinese companies to spy for them?

    And if the Chinese citizens think their government isn't a danger to them, they're morons. They were a danger to their own citizens long before they were a danger to any foreigners.

  • by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @10:46AM (#39018797)

    Stop doing businees in and with China, entirely. Bring manufacturing and jobs back to your home country/state and improve your own damn economy. /radical concept I know.

    You do realize many of these business travellers (like the ones from my company) are selling stuff *to* China, right? So we're actually generating jobs here....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @11:04AM (#39019019)

    While the US security structure is misguided, wasteful, full of theatrics and largely indifferent towards personal privacy... the goal at least is lowering the probability of terrorism at that location. Or failing that, it's about scaring the voters. Whatever.

    The Chinese goal is economic warfare on the rest of the planet. No longer content with being a model manufacturing nation for every Wall Street executive with a soft spot for despotic governments, China is looking to wholesale theft of trade secrets.

    Every nation has their own agents of corporate espionage, but this is the first time that the actual nation-state gets into the game.

    Maybe you should have read more than the subject line.

  • Re:I wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @11:11AM (#39019123)

    True, but they do rip off an inordinate amount of IP too.

    That's only because western cultures (specifically the handful of rich "content owners") defined IP in such a way that what China and most normal people do these days counts as a violation/infringement. They defined it as such to justify their pricing and distribution schemes (which they're free to do), and to justify government intervention and regulation (which is stupid for all but the few rich/powerful people at the top)

    By getting government involved, most of these content owners have become sluggish and unresponsive to the market (they rely on government to keep them going as opposed to adapting). As such, China and other people who see the situation for what it is, are able to take advantage of them/the situation.

    If the content owners spent time improving their business instead of lobbying governments, they would have come up with better solutions to piracy long ago. And it's not like there aren't attempts, such as DRM, DLC, and online subscription models for software (you may not like them, but you can just opt out and boycott those companies... same can't be said if government comes in and makes laws telling you what you can or cannot do)

  • by garaged ( 579941 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @12:18PM (#39020131) Homepage

    From the Mexican point of view, you are mostly there

  • Re:I wonder... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @01:51PM (#39021405)

    Good point, let's make that more accurate by saying that they haven't innovated since the 15th Century. That definitely changes everything.

    I mean, really, what *have* they innovated since then? And no, it's not meant to cut them down. Bear in mind, this is the *reason* that one of the most populous countries in the world, with one of the oldest civilizations could turn into a second rate country in the first place. Do you think the British and Germans and Russians and Japanese could have done squat to China if they had innovated in the last 500 years? No way.

    China is doing what the US did in the 19th Century... rip off everything they didn't invent themselves. Although, I will say that even when the US was ripping stuff off, they were actually inventing things too. China still isn't inventing anything other than better ways to censor their Internet.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.