China Censorship Software: From Bad to Worse

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on June 15, 2009

As if it weren’t already clear Chinese bureaucrats didn’t do their homework before mandating new censorship software for all Chinese PCs, over the past few days comes more news that the policy isn’t quite ready for prime time. First, the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership of academics from Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford and the University of Toronto, issued a report calling into question the basic quality of the “Green Dam” software: “As a policy decision, mandating the installation of a specific software product is both unprecedented and poorly conceived. In this specific instance, the mistake is compounded by requiring the use of a substandard software product that interferes with the performance of personal computers in an unpredictable way, killing browsers and applications without warning while opening up users to numerous serious security vulnerabilities. The level of parental control over the software is poor such that this software does not well serve parents that wish to the limit exposure of their children to Internet content.”

Other analysts agree with ONI folks that Green Dam is bad software. Rebecca MacKinnon’s RConversation blog (which is all over this story) flags this report from Scott Wolchok, Randy Yao and J. Alex Halderman at the University of Michigan. “Once Green Dam is installed, any web site the user visits can exploit these problems to take control of the computer,” they write. “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.”

The Michigan report again raises the question of just who was overseeing the Chinese bureaucrats who decided this policy made any sense. Never mind the question about whether the government should be promoting censorship. What about whether the government should be analyzing proposed policy changes thoroughly? “We found these problems with less than 12 hours of testing, and we believe they may be only the tip of the iceberg,” the Michigan three write. “Green Dam makes frequent use of unsafe and outdated programming practices that likely introduce numerous other vulnerabilities. Correcting these problems will require extensive changes to the software and careful retesting. In the meantime, we recommend that users protect themselves by uninstalling Green Dam immediately.”

Then there’s the threat of the issue morphing into a U.S.-China trade dispute, one that centers on Achilles heel of Chinese law enforcement: intellectual property rights. As Reuters reports here, Solid Oak Software, from Santa Barbara, California, alleges Green Dam contains parts of Solid Oak’s own software. Jinhui Computer System Engineering, the Chinese company that makes Green Dam, denies any wrongdoing.

Jinhui is also threatening legal action of its own, with today’s China Daily reporting company general manager Zhang Chenmin saying of the actions of the Michigan three, “it is not responsible to crack somebody’s software and publish the details, which are commercial secrets, on the Internet. They (the professors) have infringed the copyright of our product. I think the negative comments and attacks on Green Dam are intentional.” According to the government newspaper, Jinhui is working “non-stop” to come up with free patches to address the security problems.

Reader Comments

Steven

June 15, 2009 4:16 PM

Let me tell you again. This is not a censorship software, it is a anti-porn software that gov provides to Chinese users.

The funny thing is that when the software is tagged as "censorship software" by western propaganda, so many unknown US companies came out to say about copyrights. Do US companies copy each other? Do US companies produce "censorship software" too?

Steven

June 15, 2009 11:43 PM

One more thing I have some to say since you mentioned it in your previous blog of this series. Looks like WAPI will be accepted as another international standard soon.

China

June 16, 2009 12:19 AM

Stupid Chinese Government.

tristen

June 16, 2009 12:53 AM

good god, they are dumb, they Steal something, tear half the code out and replace it with bad software (not saying the original was any better, merely observation of various news) then say that someone infringed on Their copy rights to the software? damn, i wish I could get away with that and not be arrested and fined... but i guess that would just make me as pathetic as them.

Tim

June 16, 2009 1:01 AM

“As a policy decision, mandating the installation of a specific software product is both unprecedented and poorly conceived. In this specific instance, the mistake is compounded by requiring the use of a substandard software product that interferes with the performance of personal computers in an unpredictable way, killing browsers and applications without warning while opening up users to numerous serious security vulnerabilities."

That sounds like an almost perfect description of a Windows upgrade.

Have the Chinese Communist Party and Microsoft developed a partnership?
What next from the creators of the unbreakable infinite loop? I hope they're not looking for a partner to enforce their anti-piracy program.

党棍

June 16, 2009 1:08 AM

with that piece of dummy software, users in China can't read and write text containing keywords like: 李洪志 (Li Hongzhi)、胡锦涛 (Hu Jintao)、六四 (June 4th)、民主 (democracy)、自由 / liberty, etc..

S

June 16, 2009 1:11 AM

Say something useful ok???

Freddie

June 16, 2009 1:15 AM

Odd that "Steven" writes with broken English like from Chinese mainland. Could It be that "Steven" is mere tool of Chinese govt and Co. propaganda?:

Steven

June 16, 2009 1:15 AM

I take back my comment. I see that the software is not work. The glory of the middle kingdom will not be shown by these software.

Recall China

June 16, 2009 1:18 AM

Control the Chinese people. Control how they live. Control their family planning. Control what they believe. Control what they express. Control what they communicate. Control their safety. Control their security. Control their computers. Anything left…to control.

Dave Morris

June 16, 2009 1:21 AM

Steven, I too thought it was wrong to call this "censorship" software -- until I read that the code contains references to Tibet, June 4 and other sensitive topics. And that the list of banned key words won't ever be made public. And that "Green Dam" doesn't just block them, it disables your applications. Finally, if Green Dam is not for censorship, why is mandatory and not voluntary? Finally, if a U.S. company steals somebody else's software, it can get recourse in the courts. Alas, that's tough in China.

Michelle

June 16, 2009 1:29 AM

Actually Steven. This IS censorship software. I live in China and it's very very clear that Censorship is exactly what it is.

semi

June 16, 2009 1:33 AM

So much for "anti-porn" software...

Green Dam's baffling filtered words
by Fang Zhouzi

Computer security experts at the University of Michigan unlocked Green Dam's list of filtered words. The list is primarily made up of sensitive words related to sex and politics, and although it's not as strange as the other sensitive word list that has been circulated online, there are still a few places that I don't understand.

1. The list includes common terms like "essence" (本质), "fallacies and heresies" (歪理邪说), "Cat-III" (三级), "naked" (裸露), and "homosexuality" (同性恋). "Fallacies and heresies" is likely a politically-sensitive term, and the three at the end are sexually-sensitive terms, but I can't even imagine what "essence" counts as. I've had these words appear in my non-sexual, non-political writing, so does that mean that the websites that host those articles will be zapped? And Green Dam monitors word processing in addition to Internet access, so does this mean that if these common terms appear in a Word document, the draft will suddenly get deleted without so much as warning you to save it? Does this mean that from now on, the word "essence" can no longer appear in primary and secondary school essays, and that these terms must be removed from textbooks and dictionaries?

2. The list also includes the strange term fanyu (梵欲), which I've never even heard of. I thought it might be some new sex term, but after Googling it I found only a few pages that contained it, a little over 100. The majority of those were Buddhist scriptures, and not even a single one was sexually- or politically-sensitive. So why filter this peculiar term? If it was a typo, then isn't that just a little bit careless for a piece of software that's going to go out to hundreds of millions of users?

3. To no one's surprise, most of the filtered words on the list concern cult organizations, but many of the listed terms criticize or attact the cult and its leader. For example, "The anti-science character of Fa XX", "The anti-society character of Fa XX", "The fallacies and heresies of Fa XX", "Fa XX foments hatred", "Fa XX is an evil cult", "an illegal organization like Fa XX", "Li XX is an exceptionally greedy man", "Li XX's henchmen", "Li XX cheats his followers", "Exposing Li XX's true form", and "Li XX, who misleads the people with heresies". If a website preserves those old articles issued by the government criticizing cults, will it be zapped? Why don't they want everyone in the country to be able to read articles criticizing cults and their leaders? Could the 'lun have been involved in drawing up the list of filtered words?

Ali

June 16, 2009 1:39 AM

Good
it good to say of to happy that China produced software, in my opinion i am very glad and i am congratulating the government of China.

nobody

June 16, 2009 1:44 AM

Steven, not every westerner is that naive. Quite many know what chinese gov is doing.

Anti porn? They can get it easily even w/o the internet. As soon I open the door of the taxi in beijing, several will come and try to sell me pirated porn vcd.

Chris

June 16, 2009 1:47 AM

Steven and anyone else who thinks this is not censorship software. If you believe this, you are naive and ignorant of the intentions of the Chinese government. Look at what is actually being filtered:

"A report in The Epoch Times on 13 June stated that hackers in China had accessed the keyword library and administrative codes, revealing only 2,700 keywords relating to pornography, and over 6,500 politically sensitive keywords. Keywords are said to have been found relating to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Tibet and Falun Gong."

Are you aware of what is already being blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall? This software will just make it worse for everyone in China.

James

June 16, 2009 1:57 AM

Actually Steven, it is anti-porn, anti-falun-gong, anti-anti-china software that the Chinese govt FORCES on its people. I know that you are patriotic about your country and we all think that is cute, but they really haven't orchestrated this correctly.

anon

June 16, 2009 1:58 AM

if there are security threats within the software that can be exploited, and its installed on every computer, that becomes a huge problem within the entire country

James

June 16, 2009 2:01 AM

"Do US companies produce "censorship software" too?"

Huh? What are you talking about? Do you see our govt trying to force us to install firewall software that they provide?

the running man

June 16, 2009 2:05 AM

It just gets more and more rewarding to discuss issues with the Chinese. They have a lot of credibility and their take on propaganda is, well, expert.

After all, if you want to learn how people of the world should mistrust their governments, just listen to a Chinese. They know what's best for you, and the sooner you figure that out the happier you'll be.

cyberbian

June 16, 2009 2:19 AM

Here is what every freedom loving person can do to put an end to Green Dam and other software like it:


Embed keywords which are filtered in every page of the internet. There will be nothing left outside China which can be viewed. Then the Green Wall of China will either come down or become China's intellectual prison.

china life

June 16, 2009 2:26 AM

You can tell on these post who are chinese and who are foreigners, look at the grammar and how they phrase their comments. Common chinese people do you really think your government is only putting in anti porn, get real the country though more open today than 20 years ago, is still a communist country, which means you are controlled in your actions still. Just as North Korea feeds what they want you to know so does China. Yes, china has come a long way in 20 years, and actually I love living here as most of my rights are not infringed on, and with common sense I stay away from violating others. But first and foremost the Chinese are good at getting around stuff like this, so why even bother, chinese do one thing very good, take anything legal , duplicate it, modify it or hack it. Just as they access porn thru numbers sites not word sites, tell me how do u plan to block that, I have seen many chinese access porn thru sites like a 11453.com.cn or something, no that is an example not a real site, you cannot stop someone if they don't want you to. Being a communist country it is their right to block what they wish but china is changing and they know it, they got taste of some freedoms and money the people will never allow control completly again, and just as other communist countries they will change and learn controlling the people will not work.

Chairman Mao

June 16, 2009 2:28 AM

US govt and federal reserve is the biggest copyright violator. it print money out of thin air and steal from every one.

Pornography = OPIUM and poison of mind.

Jesus

June 16, 2009 2:30 AM

I personally do not care if the Chinese gov't keep their people in the dark and ignorant. Nothing is going to change that despicable government, especially when the Chinese people themselves aren't willing to fight for change, much less their freedom.

hgh

June 16, 2009 3:11 AM

The Minister Mr.Li has good repute before this case, since he ever be a director in charge of production safe of china, and he work hard. but this case maybe made a mistake.

keith

June 16, 2009 7:47 AM

As if China cares what people at Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford and the University of Toronto has to say.

How ingenious the yapping west is, if green dam is a pile of crap as you say you should be all grateful that Chinese computers all have security holes left, right and center so your idustrial-military complex can hack in.

HEYHEYHEY

June 16, 2009 12:58 PM

Steven, I am a Chinese citizen here in the U.S.

I can tell u with 100% sure that this is a censorship software.

It blocks words such as ”法轮功“(FA LUNGONG),"六四”(JUN 4TH, 6.4), “同性恋”(GAY) and etc.

Do your homework and stop humiliating yourself.

C. H. Ng

June 16, 2009 11:20 PM

I don't see what's the arguments all about; except for the fact that the posters here are either pro-China or anti-China.

If the Chinese government wants to impose some sort of censorship software to filter out what they think is bad for her people and if the majority of the people there do not mind about it, what the heck you people care about their problem? Unless of cos you got some agendas of your own...!

Frankly speaking, I think many westerners do not really understand what make the Chinese people tick. I am a Chinese myself, though an oversea Chinese as I am born in Malaysia. Like many of us oversea Chinese here, we are the so-called "banana men"...yellow outside, white inside...meaning that we may be Chinese but we can't read or write in Mandarin as we are mostly educated in English. Due to our links and connections with western language and cultures, we came to understand most westerners think and act straight; unlike the Chinese who tend to "act & bend with the wind of changes". Therefore I would like to suggest to the western nations, her people as well as the mainlander Chinese...stop picking & criticizing each other. Let's live and let live. Nobody is perfect and neither are all the systems (government policies) in this world too.

Elros

June 16, 2009 11:41 PM

I think Steven is Chinese people who live in mainland, I even guess he is one of the "Green Dam" company's employees, He is fighting for their own.
At present most people are denouncing this infringement、plagiarism software, but govt care?
---
From China mainland

the running man

June 17, 2009 12:08 AM

Yes yes, let's renounce all public examination of china as "cultural misunderstanding" and avoid China making an accounting of herself. Must be nice to have that racial mandate of correctness.

Um, speaking as a "westerner" who lives on the China mainland and has for many years with a Chinese family. Why should westerners care what happens "over there"? Westerners know a lot more about China culture than some Chinese give them credit for. And frankly, more than some Chinese know themselves about their own history and cultural background.

Why should Chinese be above criticism? They certainly know how to dish it out. Problem is, they don't know how to take it. Chinese culture is too busy faking harmony with people to learn how to deal with honesty. The only people that works on are other Chinese who want to be part of that consensus of unaccountability.

C. H. Ng

June 17, 2009 4:18 AM

I am not trying to imply that China & her people are above criticism; but please don't simply criticize just for sake of criticising. Likewise I do hope the mainlander Chinese will not simply take to heart that all the "attacks" are aiming solely at them. That's why I ask all of us to live and let's live.

One thing here I am quite sure is that there are many westerners who are either envious or jealous or scare of China's rapid achievement during the past 3 decades. If it's only the first two categories, I can understand. But if it's only the 3rd, I see no reason why they should be scare. A developed China with her huge population well fed is good for the whole world. Likewise we should ensure all other nations in this world are developed as well. If not, any of the poor nation's hungry people will become desperate people and thus easy breeding grounds for terrorism, robbery, piracy and anarchy.
Well except for robbery which is common everywhere in this world, do you see such things happening currently in China?

Last but not least, Chinese culture is not being busy faking harmony...it's an art of giving face which is unique to the Chinese people but which might looked or seemed "fakish" (sorry, is there such a word?)to others.

Elros

June 17, 2009 10:34 PM

I do agree with C.H.Ng's opinion about Chinese culture and China's achievement, but I think some Chinese people(sorry, just some, not all of) have lost their credit, although they yet had. BTW, China Information Department shouldn't do like that.

Mark

June 22, 2009 6:24 PM

" From Bad to Worse". It is true for CIA operation.More funding from CNN, BBC for Iranian event,Americans should take opportunities in Iran to finance their way of life instead.

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