- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008


Visitors to this month’s Olympic Games in Beijing may have more than smog to worry about.

“We can see aggressive espionage” in China, said David Rice, a network security expert who heads the Monterey Group, a cybersecurity consulting firm in Monterey, Calif. “Attendees’ [digital] devices will be embedded or compromised in one way or another,” he warned.

China and the United States perceive communications networks in different ways. In America, such networks are privately held means of personal and business contact. In China, the government owns - and watches - the communications system.

“In China, networks are for state-sponsored monitoring of any type of communications,” Mr. Rice said. He devoted part of a chapter in his new book, “Geekonomics: The Real Cost of Insecure Software” (Addison Wesley, $29.99), to a discussion of how rogue programs can be implanted in electronic devices to wreak havoc.

Already, journalists working at the Olympic Village are reporting that they cannot access Web sites that Chinese authorities deem “unrelated” to the Games, including sites run by dissident political movements. The Times of London reported July 20 that an aide to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had his BlackBerry phone stolen in Beijing, potentially exposing Mr. Brown’s network to infiltration.

The Beijing Tourism Administration expects the Olympic Games to attract 550,000 international visitors this month. If those visitors bring digital phones, cameras or laptops, they will be prime targets for espionage attempts, Mr. Rice said.

While a visitor might wonder, “‘Who’s going to hack my computer? I’m an employee of a food service company,’” Mr. Rice said even visitors such as those would be of interest to Chinese authorities.

“It’s not if you think you’re a target, it’s if they think you’re a target,” Mr. Rice said. “It’s hard to overstate the aggressiveness of the type of techniques. This is the reality of cyberwarfare and cyberespionage in the 21st century.”

Mr. Rice cited the case of a food service company employee’s computer being hacked so that agents of the People’s Liberation Army could access e-mail systems of that company’s customers, reportedly including a government contractor.

What to do? Go “naked” to the Games, Mr. Rice said. Don’t bring your usual cell phone, camera or computer. Buy disposable phones and cameras. If you must bring hardware to Beijing, make it something you can throw away after you use it.

“With a little bit of awareness, the typical Olympic traveler can have a wonderful event,” Mr. Rice said.

The difference in today’s espionage, Mr. Rice said, is that the Chinese are looking for ways to gain economic advantage. During the Cold War, Soviet spies had other goals in mind.

“This is a difference that the Chinese learned that the Soviets didn’t. The Soviets stole every secret NATO had - but they were a Third World country competing against First World nations,” Mr. Rice said. Today, “the Chinese are an emerging nation that doesn’t have the same backward economic or manufacturing outlook.”

And, no, Mr. Rice said he’s not attending the Games in Beijing, with or without any electronics.

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