Chinese monitor Tom-Skype chat

From a recent article on Ars Technica forwarded to me by my mother:

In a joint report between ONI Asia and the Information Welfare Monitor, author Nart Villeneuve details evidence that China not only monitors and logs text chat, but also targets specific users for further monitoring.

The article was based on a publication entitled BREACHING TRUST: An analysis of surveillance and security practices on China’s TOM-Skype platform.

Like it or not, it is the policy of the Chinese government to monitor whichever communications they want, and to respond in whatever way they want.  All Chinese know this.  There is no promise of privacy to breach.  This applies to communications with an endpoint in China, in a state cooperating with China, or any location managed by a Chinese or sympathetic company.

The real story here is that eBay is unlikely to end its relationship with Tom Online because the Chinese government would retaliate by crippling all eBay services inside China.  This is the same sort of leverage that prevents CNN and FoxNews from overly negative reporting on China, and forced Yahoo to reveal the identity of a high profile dissenter several years back.

The Chinese government uses its powers to hurt the interests of uncooperative entities.  Anyone who does business with the Chinese government, Chinese companies, within China, or travels to China subjects themselves to strong-arm tactics by the Chinese government and is therefor a de facto collaborator with the Chinese government.  That does not mean you should not do any of the above – the Chinese government is not all bad – but there should be no misunderstanding about what you are doing.

Other facts you should not be shocked to hear:

  • All instant messages (Yahoo, AIM, MSN, ICQ) are monitored and censored.
  • All message boards are monitored and censored.
  • All emails are monitored.
  • All SMS messages are monitored.
  • Phone calls can be monitored.
  • Mobile phones can be located and tracked.
  • All call records are available to the Chinese state.
  • Many mobile phones can be transformed into a transmitting listening device by sending a signal over the network.  (This occurs in the United States as well.)
  • With the combination of location tracking and call records, the Chinese government can easily tell who you are meeting with, where and when you are meeting, who you are communicating with, and what you are saying.  Anyone working against the interests of the Chinese state, its allies, or agents, can easily be discovered along with their network of collaborators.
  • Hotel rooms, business offices, homes, and any locations that arouse suspicion are routinely monitored with bugs.
  • Hotel and airplane travel records are stored centrally and accessible to the Chinese state.

There is no expectation of privacy from the state in China.  The Chinese state does not respect the privacy of communications, homes, or businesses.

Tom Online is the Chinese partner of eBay (which owns Skype,) and distributes a modified version of Skype for China.  There is no reason I know of to use the Tom Online version, unless you wish to subject yourself to monitoring.

Anyone inside or outside China wishing to make sure all of their communications are not subject to Chinese monitoring should use a secure tunnel with a server outside China, and avoid communication that passes through resources tainted by Chinese access.

If you have ssh on your computer and have access to a Unix account outside of China, the following command will create such tunnel:

ssh -qTfnNC -D 9999 [user]@[host]

You must then proxy communications through the host initiating the tunnel.