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China 'Green Dam' Censorware Called Security Risk

Chinese authorities claim the software is necessary to protect people from pornography, but the software has been found to block politically sensitive terms.

China's plan to require Web filtering software on all PCs sold in the country after July 1 continues to draw fire from individuals and organizations inside and outside the country.

Three computer scientists with the University of Michigan on Thursday published an analysis of the "Green Dam Youth Escort" software required by the Chinese government and found that "it contains serious security vulnerabilities due to programming errors."

The researchers state that the software contains systemic flaws in its code as a result of unsafe programming techniques and that the software's problems are compounded by a design that exposes it to a large variety of potential attacks.

"If Green Dam is deployed in its current form, it will significantly weaken China's computer security," the report states. "While the flaws we discovered can be quickly patched, correcting all the problems in the Green Dam software will likely require extensive rewriting and thorough testing. This will be difficult to achieve before China's July 1 deadline for deploying Green Dam nationwide."

Chinese authorities claim the software is necessary to protect people from harmful information, specifically pornography. But the software has been found to block politically sensitive terms.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, two professors in China have filed formal complaints against the government's plan to the China State Council and the National Anti-Monopoly Committee stating that the Green Dam mandate is an "abuse of power."

Li Fangping, a human rights lawyer in Beijing, is also challenging the legality of the government's plan. He has asked China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to hold a hearing on the issue.

On Thursday, the Global Network Initiative, a coalition of information and communications companies, human rights organizations, academics, and others, said the software raised human rights concerns. It also questioned the legitimacy of the Chinese government's approach.

"An approach for protecting children online that requires the mandatory installation of a particular software package that is difficult to uninstall and filters far more than sexually explicit content is not consistent with the practices of other countries that have encouraged parental control tools and is far out of proportion to the goal of child protection," the GNI said in a statement.

The Chinese government appears not to like what it's hearing. Rebecca MacKinnon, assistant professor at the Journalism & Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong, notes in a blog post that Chinese Internet users have been posting copies of notices, sent from the government's Central Propaganda department to news organizations, that direct recipients "to tone down the criticism and take on a more positive tone toward Green Dam."

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on what executives really think about security. Download the report here (registration required).

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