Travelling In Modern Day China Requires Cold War-Era Secret Agent Skills

If Kenneth G. Lieberthal were anything but a China expert at the Brookings institution, his travelling-in-China security procedures would read like the product of a paranoid mind that watched too many spy movies as a kid.

He leaves his mobile phone and laptop at home and instead brings "loaner" devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, "the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop."

Talk about overkill, right? Well he's not alone. The New York Times reports that these seemingly paranoid precautions are par for the course for just about anyone with valuable information including government officials, researchers and even normal businessmen who do business in China.

But what about the rest of us? I may not have any valuable state secrets or research that needs protecting but that doesn't mean I want the Chinese government snooping on my internetting when I visit my grandparents (especially when the consequences can be so severe). In the past, I've relied on a combination of VPNs, TOR and password-protecting everything I can, but now it sounds like even that isn't enough. Or maybe it's totally overkill given my general unimportance in the grand scheme of things. Dear readers, I ask you, how much security is enough when it comes to the average person on holidays? [NY Times]

Image: Shutterstock/Rynio Productions



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    Copy and paste the password. Hmm now they know to read the clipboard and dump its contents. Thank you.

    They've done similar things in the US for decades. My father used to work in defense in the UK and whenever they went over to the US and tried to win a contract their luggage would take half an hour or so longer to get off the plane. The US competitor's bid then miraculously levelled up their offering to match where they'd been beaten by the UK firm, before they'd even released the details.

    Seems like overkill, but you never know what might happen. I usually just take an older phone when I travel, but that's to lessen the impact of lost or stolen luggage more than corporate espionage.

    In other words the Chinese want to steal information about themselves from the expert.

    We wrote a similar article at:

    Also, did everyone see where Nortel was hacked (for the last ten years, without notice until now!):

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