China to Mandate Internet Filtering Software on PCs

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The Great Firewall of China looks to be making a move on individual computer users’ hard drives: according to reports by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the Chinese government has informed PC makers that all new PCs sold in the country as of July 1 must be pre-equipped with the free “Green Dam-Youth Escort” filtering software to block access to particular Web sites. According to reports, the Chinese government is primarily concerned with blocking access to pornographic material and other “unhealthy” words and images.

The Chinese government has made the directive to PC manufacturers, but has yet to formally announce it to the public.

The move is just the latest by the Chinese government to regulate and control Internet content accessible by its citizens; China already operates the most extensive and sophisticated Internet filtering operation on the planet, mostly with an eye towards keeping “harmful” information way from its citizens, such as calls for democracy in China.

Mandating specific firewall software be installed on every computer sold raises new types of concerns, however. Although few details are known about the specific software being required by the government, already industry watchers are warning that the software may effectively give the Chinese government a “back door” into users’ computers, effectively being able to control whether their computers can access particular Internet sites, or even monitoring communications (like email or instant messaging) or even keystrokes. Even if the software is comparatively innocuous, it may itself pose a security risk to users: if attackers find an exploitable flaw in the software, Chinese computer users may find themselves at the mercy of computer attackers, spammers, and other criminals and fraudsters as the direct result of a government mandate.

The filtering software was developed by Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., and the company reportedly claims the software is primarily concerned with filtering images, not text, language, or other forms of communication.