Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The China Conundrum and its implications for international cyber-security – 5

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on February 6, 2011

This is my fifth installment to date in a series on China, (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 69, 71, 72, and 75) and I have been developing this from a dual perspective. I have been writing this series with issues of information and cyber-security in mind and with a focus there at the level of national interests and actions. I have also viewed those issues as being inseparable from the larger context of China as a country with its wide ranging internal affairs, and its complex relations with other nations. Information does not and cannot meaningfully exist in a vacuum. Information derives its meaning in large part from its context, and its context is most assuredly where its value and significance come from.

I start this posting by reconsidering China’s Golden Shield Project, already touched upon several times in this series and in most detail here in my third posting in this series. (Also see Stuxnet and Beyond – reason and emotion as drivers for both cyber-attack and defense for background details.) And I start this posting by asking what should in principle be a simple question, but one that can only have complex and tentative answers:

• Why would China expend the resources and capital to develop and run an initiative like its Golden Shield Project?

This in turn suggests a second question.

• What does China’s inwardly facing Golden Shield Project tell us as to China’s more overtly outwardly facing information control policies and practices?

I point out the obvious in that context. In our increasingly ubiquitously interconnected online world, there can be no clean, clear-cut distinctions between internal and national, and external and international. So much if not most of the Golden Shield Project looks to be directed toward web sites, server and hosting capabilities and routes into China from the outside. In this, their well known conflicts with foreign web site companies such as Google are only part of the story. Even more strictly internal Chinese voices frequently seek to bypass filters and censors by routing from China to the outside and then back in again, going through anonymizer servers. Inside and outside blur and become as if one. So the Chinese government and its senior leaders see a need to manage and control the message and who presents it as challenge that is in many ways ubiquitous and without boundaries.

I have already posted on what may have been a proof of principle test for an externally facing cyber-weapons system that would slow down and challenge the internet and key, targeted external national interests (see Stuxnet, Internet Traffic Rerouting and Next Generation Protocol-Based Vulnerabilities.) The issues that I have been posting on in this series that at first glance may seem to digress from the story of cyber-security and potential for cyber-conflict, all do in fact strongly connect to this. They and others like them are the context in which information and information flow, and security issues and responses develop from. They are the sources of stress and potential for fracture that the Chinese government would seek to control information development and access about, making all of their cyber-security and possible cyber-conflict responses possible.

I am going to switch directions in my next posting in this series, and look at what can in many respects be considered a positive story – China’s embrace of clean energy technology. I am going to do so offering a cautionary note as to some of the approaches their government is pursuing in this, but I will make note of how this major initiative holds positive, stabilizing value for them too. And as an admittedly unfocused preview of how I will develop that story, I note that a lot of it will involve looking at China through the more business organizational approach that I take in my various series and postings in Business Strategy and Operations.

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