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Chinese government shows no sign of backing down on spyware program

By Matthew Shaer / June 23, 2009

People use computers at an internet cafe in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, on June 23. China will not revoke its controversial plan requiring all new personal computers to be sold with Internet filtering software, an official newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Reuters

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Even in the face of growing pressure from the West, the Chinese government said yesterday that it will not back down on plans to launch a mandatory filtering program called Green Dam-Youth Escort. Speaking to a reporter for China Daily, an unnamed official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology confirmed that Green Dam was still scheduled for a July 1 launch.

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The report comes a week before Green Dam is set to become mandatory on all computers sold in mainland China, and a day after the US made its objections to the program clear. Yesterday, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the Green Dam mandate should be revoked.

Precedent

China has repeatedly cracked down on web users over the past year. In the days before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, for instance, the Chinese government launched a preemptive campaign to tamp down on protest. Social-networking sites such as Twitter were shuttered; web outages were widespread. Last summer, during the Beijing Olympic Games, international journalists were reportedly denied access to a score of web sites.

But Green Dam Youth Escort, which filters so-called "objectionable content," is being viewed by many in the West as worse than a simple web crackdown.

Writing on the Huffington Post, Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said the danger was not only censorship, "but control or even massive destruction. Imagine if you could control the software put on one billion computers in a country. You could destroy the computers by creating a virus. You could shut them off all at once. You could turn them on and send them to the same landing page."

An open target for hackers

Meanwhile, many computer experts say that Green Dam is easily exploitable by hackers.

"Once Green Dam is installed, any Web site the user visits can exploit these problems to take control of the computer," reads a recent report from University of Michigan Computer Science and Engineering Division. "This could allow malicious sites to steal private data, send spam, or enlist the computer in a botnet. In addition, we found vulnerabilities in the way Green Dam processes blacklist updates that could allow the software makers or others to install malicious code during the update process."

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