China mulls new commission to monitor internet risks

New commission would check whether products and hardware can be hijacked by outside forces

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 February, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 February, 2017, 9:00am

Beijing is considering establishing a high-level inter-departmental commission to screen internet services and hardwareas it tightens its grip over cyberspace.

The Cyberspace Administration of China issued a draft outline on Saturday of measures to bolster online ­security, saying the commission would assess whether products such as servers or internet services could be hijacked by an outside party, and the privacy of users compromised. The commission would coordinate work related to the screening, the draft said.

It said government and Communist Party offices should only purchase products or services vetted by the committee.

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Operators of critical internet infrastructure that could involve state security should also use only approved products and services.

The leadership has been trying to foster the development of home-grown network technology to improve cybersecurity, and President Xi Jinping established the Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity Affairs in 2014, which he chairs.

Beijing has also adopted a controversial cybersecurity law, which requires “operators of critical information infrastructure” to store personal information and important business data within the Chinese mainland. It has also launched a nationwide campaign against unauthorised internet connections, including virtual private networks that allow users to bypass internet regulators.

The cyberspace administration earlier vowed to help ensure the online environment was conducive to a major Communist Party congress to be held later this year.

Zuo Xiaodong, vice-president of the China Information Security Research Institute and an adviser on internet policies, said the latest draft was aimed at major information infrastructure and general users would not be seriously ­affected.

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“Key information infrastructure include things like operation systems of key offices of the state and the party,” Zuo said.

Screening such services and products was a common ­practice in other countries, Zuo said.

“Many countries screen information products and services because of security concerns, though they might not call it censorship,” Zuo said, pointing to the difficulties telecoms equipment makers ZTE and Huawei have encountered in the United States.

In 2012, the US House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee said in a report that Huawei and ZTE “cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems”.

US intelligence agencies should stay focused on efforts by Huawei and ZTE to expand in the US and inform the private sector as much as possible about the purported espionage threat, the panel’s leaders said.