By ChinaTechNews.com Editorial Team
The latest salvos aimed at China are technology-induced fear-mongerings that a PC security software will cause a veil to wax across computer screens of Chinese netizens. This fear could not be any more misguided.
The Wall Street Journal states that the software, which is due to hit store shelves in China on July 1, "could transmit personal information, cause PCs to malfunction, and make them more vulnerable to hacking". This reads more like a description of a standard Microsoft Windows operating system than the security software that is meant to protect young Chinese computer users from pornography.
Any computer connected to the Internet can transmit personal information and is vulnerable to hacking. If you have read this far, we already know what type of browser you are using, your operating system, the name of your Internet service provider, and the IP address at which you are sitting. Even if you are using obfuscation software, we at least know the type of obfuscation software you are using and its originating IP address. We can see you scowling, too.
This software is getting little respect in Internet chatrooms and forums. Today, the China Daily newspaper posted an article with quotes from around the world that doubt the ability for the software to complete its stated task. And the oft-used English translation of this youth-friendly software, "Green Dam Youth Escort", is an unfortunate moniker whose second word is a homophone of an offensive curse and whose last element is a synonym for a prostitute.
But this software, or any software that aims to cleanse and secure China's millions of computers, should be given some respect. It is important that Chinese users use security software, and industry-led initiatives have not worked. Only a government mandate can get the job done. Unfortunately this upstart action has not been coupled with a great public relations campaign.
Why is it important in China for users to obtain security software? China is home to thousands of botnets and zombie computers. These computers act as bandwidth hogs and phishing destinations that steal credit card details and users' passwords from around the globe. The international security organization Spamhaus ranks China second (behind the United States) with the highest amount of originating email spam. Spam carries exploits and is a conduit for phishing, so securing computers in China is critical. Phishing websites often lurk behind links in pornographic emails and the sexually-explicit websites that act as landing pages.
In China, the effect of thousands of computers which do not have properly installed security software has already caused mass outages and Internet disruptions. Chinese domain name service registrar DNSPod last month reported activities that affected its services and caused network outages in various provinces; Internet users in Jiangsu, Anhui, Guangxi, Henan, Gansu, and Zhejiang reported that they suffered slow Internet speeds or were unable to visit some websites. Green Dam stops porn, but it has the potential to truly aid users from visiting other potentially unsafe areas on the Web.
Some of the industry-led crying from outside China is probably on behalf of non-Chinese software security firms like Symantec, which missed the boat and isn't lucky to monopolize the desktop security environment in China. Jinhui Computer System Engineering Company, the firm which developed Green Dam Youth Escort, orchestrated a great coup by grabbing this lucrative deal in China. It smells like Microsoft circa 1990.
Companies like Apple, Red Hat and Canonical might be silently ecstatic. Green Dam appears to not function on computers running Apple and Linux operating systems. So until Apple's desktop and mobile operating systems gets their own Green Dam versions, porn-focused users will still be able to view illegal websites on their iPhones. Some critics outside of China are grumbling that software companies should fight back by not selling their software in China. But since when did many computer users in China start buying legitimate software?
Foreign media are hitting back at Jinhui, writing that the company has "ties to China's security ministry and military". What's wrong with having ties to the security apparatus in China? Symantec, Sophos, and Kaspersky surely have ties to government-related security agencies around the world as they seek lucrative deals, heuristics, and information to help prop up their respective security software packages. The Wall Street Journal's use of language to mold Green Dam into an ominous military-funded sex experiment is muckraking. And to add more flavor to this spicy controversy, U.S.-based Solid Oak Software now says Green Dam contains code stolen from one of Solid Oak's own software packages. We have sex and lies; now we need the videotape.
In the big picture, Chinese technology authorities have a tough task in balancing the needs of hundreds of millions of users with the continued growth of a stable Internet environment that still juggles the needs of businesses operating within China's legal environment. While China has often been criticized from overseas for offering too much oversight of the Internet, it has also been accused of not proactively fixing fundamental Internet security issues. Pornographic websites often harbor viruses and malware, so instead of condemning the action, let's hope critics and companies around the world look for ways to work within this framework in China.