China has had problems safeguarding the security of its internet ever since the country was officially plugged in with the rest of the world in 1994. The main problems are how to identify and understand threats from cyberspace, how to make the Chinese internet a secure space, and how to make the process of maintaining security as efficient as possible.
To combat these issues the Chinese central government has established a national strategy designed to maintain internet security. On April 19, 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted a symposium in Beijing on Chinese cybersecurity and informatization — the adoption of information technology.
Xi is the head of the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group. The group’s aim is to safeguard cybersecurity, maintain national interest, and promote informatization.
More specifically, they intend to fight two major problems that continue resurfacing in the Chinese cyber-realm.
First, those with vested business interests — such as software producers and server providers — sell cybersecurity software to government entities, claiming that their product is the ultimate solution to safeguarding security online. Consequently, these interest groups place profits over national security.
Second, there are government and business groups in China that try to keep foreign IT competitors out of the country at all costs, either out of personal business interest or out of conspiracy — that is, paranoia that foreigners will try to steal national secrets. Although it is important for the country’s IT economy to be self-sufficient, completely cutting foreign competitors out of the market would be bad economics.
Some of conspiracy theorists have even suggested temporarily cutting China from the World Wide Web as one solution to absolute cybersecurity. They propose to create a self-contained China network that could access the World Wide Web via private peering — a private connection between two networks.
However, although it is easy to spot the problems in China’s cyber-sphere, implementing concrete reforms remains a huge challenge. To begin with, Xi’s group must work to educate local governments, businesses, and the public about the real dangers of cybersecurity, but they must also make the public care about it.
Education is the easy part; making people care is a little more complicated.
Substantial investment has been put into a range of key government projects on cybersecurity and informatization. However, most of these have been ineffective, costing the public huge sums of money. Moreover, poor supervision in these projects has often led to severe problems.
An initiative launched in November 2009 by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology aimed to boost China’s high-tech sector. The country’s IT industry isn’t as advanced as that of many foreign powers, and a lot of domestic products rely heavily on imported computer chips or operating systems.
The central government has already poured nearly 33 billion yuan (around $4.95 billion) into this plan.
One project sponsored by this initiative was the now-infamous “Hanxin” in 2006. The task was to try and design an advanced microchip that China could then locally produce instead, eliminating the need to import this hardware from foreign countries.
It was headed by a university scientist, Chen Jin, who claimed to have designed a chip — called “Hanxin” — but had actually just purchased the chips from the United States and sanded off the original logo. He received considerable funding from high-level bodies in China before he was found out.
If China wants to become a global cyber-power, it will have to make up serious ground at home first. The country must fight off groups that hinder cybersecurity by acting only out of self-interest, as well as advance domestic technology to make the country more independent.
(Header image: A photo illustration shows China viewed through a magnifying glass over binary code on a computer screen. Edgar Su/Reuters)