If you carry classified government information or trade secrets as part of your job, traveling in China is risky. Hackers, whether affiliated with the government, on the payroll of competing companies, or operating alone, are a constant threat, and you generally have to assume that you are never unobserved online. But a piece in the New York Times makes it exceedingly clear just how far one has to go to get even a measure of electronic privacy and security in China:
When Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, travels to that country, he follows a routine that seems straight from a spy film. Kenneth G. Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution takes precautions while traveling. He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings “loaner” devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”
This is a philosophy that Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, calls traveling “electronically naked”; Jacob Olcott, a cybersecurity expert at Good Harbor Consulting, calls it ‘Business 101’ for people involved in commerce in China. Read the NYT piece for more, but here’s one more nugget that emphasizes how dangerous, in terms of information security, it is to have any contact at all with Chinese systems:
McAfee, the security company, said that if any employee’s device was inspected at the Chinese border, it could never be plugged into McAfee’s network again. Ever. “We just wouldn’t take the risk,” said Simon Hunt, a vice president.