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Top Ten Ways to protect your Data at the Beijing Olympics

August 1, 2008

Submitted by stiennon
July 30, 2008

A complaint published by U.S. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas claims
that the government of China has ordered Beijing hotels to spy on
guests during the Olympics.  The complaint mentions the use of
software and an appliance but does not mention the specific
technology. (Now there is a sale the vendors are going to keep quiet).

This is not news of course. Any visitor to China has noticed the
active censorship they practice on web browsing and assumes that they
are monitoring at least failed attempts. On my recent visit I tried
to Google "Tibet" and "Falun Gong" (dissident Chinese group) with
remarkably different results than from here in the good old US of A.

This is not a practice unique to China either. Anecdotal evidence
abounds on French spying  and wire tapping for the purpose of
furthering their nationalized industries.  And yes, the US actively
engages in spying on Internet traffic and warrantless wire taps.

As state sponsored spying and censorship is a reality how best should
one protect ones data when traveling abroad?  Here are my top ten tips:

1. Keep your laptops, PDAs and cell phones within sight at all times.
Locking them in a hotel safe is useless if the local government is
targeting you.

2. Encrypt all unique data on your laptop. Lots of great products to do this.

3. Use passwords on your PDAs and cell phones. A big hassle. But you
can turn it off when you are safe at home. And, btw, your phone
probably won't work in China anyway. Check before hand with your carrier.

4. Don't do anything to arouse the ire of the Chinese government. If
you are a journalist don't research that article you are writing on
Olympic terrorism from the hotel room. You might get a loud knock on the door.

5. I have not tested this but I have thought about how to bypass the
Chinese censorship next time I go to China(assuming my visa is not
revoked after writing this).  Set up GOtoMyPC at home or your office
if your policies allow it. Use a good password. Do not have sensitive
information on that home PC or network. You do not want to lead the
Chinese Cyber Spies to your home!  Then simply connect to that PC
from your hotel and use it to go to whatever site you need to on the
Internet, like or whatever.

6. You can also try anonymizer sites. Go here for a huge list.
Careful, site seems shady. If you are using IE I would not try
it.  But hey, anyone reading my blog would be using FireFox anyway.
Of course the major URL filtering services already know and can block
access to these sites.

7. For secure communication use a VPN. I would try this but would not
have much hope for it working.  Both IPSec and SSL will probably be blocked.

8. Encrypt your email. This is easier. I doubt the Chinese will block
encrypted email. But, they may block all email protocols (POP, IMAP,
SMTP) in an attempt to prevent this. Try it.

9. Encrypt your message. Can't use your email software? Take your
message, documents, images,  videos and encrypt them  locally. Upload
them to your gmail or Yahoo! email account.  Don't worry, although
both Google and Yahoo! are guilty of assisting the Chinese government
in suppressing free expression they cannot turn over your encryption
keys. They won't have them.

10. Finally. If you cannot trust the network you are on go around it.
Make a long distance phone call to your home base and use a dial up
connection.   It is expensive and you won't be watching Youtube
videos but you will be able to encrypt your traffic with no fear of
prying government eyes.

It is disturbing that we have to think along these lines. But one
good thing will come of all this state sponsored snooping. The use of
encryption will finally start to take off!
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