US whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s claims about Washington surveillance will prompt China to upgrade its internet security, experts said on Thursday.
Liu Qing, chief executive of rednetunion.com, an internet security company based in Shanghai, said the hacking news appeared to confirm that the US views China as a major rival and potential threat.
If China wanted to raise its defence against cyber attacks, Liu said, it must further develop its online technology. He said that because global internet data passes through servers hosted in the US, "the country provides more convenience to hack other countries,” he told the South China Morning Post, after Snowden said the US has been hacking computers on the mainland and in Hong Kong for years.
Snowden, a 29-year-old American who blew the whistle on the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programme, said he believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
Liu said China would need to invent its own IPv6 identification system, or computer operating system that would be equivalent to the Windows system.
Still, the news was not shocking to Liu. “In fact, many countries use hacking as a highly efficient technology to obtain information that will benefit their countries,” he said.
Another security expert said Snowden had raised an alarm about cyber security. “We should raise our guard on internet security,” said Tang Wei, of Beijing Rising International Software Company, one of the largest online security companies in China.
He said the recent US surveillance leaks had alerted Chinese individuals, companies and governments to heighten their “awareness of internet security”, and necessity of carrying out periodic “security evaluations”.
“The question of how to protect privacy better may create new opportunities for IT companies to invent more powerful tools,” he said.
According to Sun Weiping, a researcher on China online security studies based in central China’s Henan province, computers on the mainland have frequently been hit by large-scale hacking and viruses. Targets include government departments, businesses and educational institutions.
Since early 2000, China has been developing internet security industries in Shanghai and Chengdu as two important bases. By 2002 there were more than 1,000 enterprises operating internet security-related businesses, according to an independent study. China plans to further expand its defence system under a five-year plan.
However, some experts believe the potential consequences of Snowden’s revelations might be at odds with the origins of a “free” internet.
The World Wide Web was essentially invented so users can freely exchange any information, said Eagle Wan, an expert from the Intelligence Defence Friends Laboratory, who was concerned about the future of the internet.
“Science is flat,” he said, borrowing a phrase from the book about globalisation The World Is Flat.
“People like Snowden are vigilantes who come out and challenge the traditional structure of information control,” he said. “Only if the structure is broken can we enjoy information freely.”
Wan said the Snowden case did not highlight a rift between the US and China, but rather information control, which is a global concern.
“Eventually, science and information will make us live in country without borders,” he said. “People like Snowden and [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange will appear. They are like rushing waves in the ocean – unstoppable.”