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China Daily Website

Let us join hands to make Internet safe

Updated: 2012-02-07 08:23
By Tang Lan ( China Daily)

With the Safer Internet Day being observed on Feb 7, it's time for more countries to join hands and make concerted efforts to enhance Internet safety. Unfortunately, China is still often accused of cyber espionage. Such baseless accusations will only create a lose-lose situation and increase suspicion and misunderstanding among countries and regions, while the real troublemakers will go scot-free.

Such perverse accusations ignore two basic facts.

First, China's network to some extent is "non-defensive", because it lags far behind its Western counterparts in mastering the advanced technology of telecommunication, Internet application and services, and in securing crucial infrastructure and important information networks. Online security experts have pointed out many of China's weak points in cyber security, especially its heavy dependence on Western core technology and low self-defense capacity.

The vulnerability of China's cyberspace has hardly improved in the past decade. In other words, despite growing network coverage, and promotion of new technologies and applications, the development of China's online security mechanism has been slower than the emerging loopholes and invention of new cyber attack methods. Reports of online security companies and relevant government departments show how serious the situation is.

Their dependence on Western, especially American, technologies and services taught Chinese people an unforgettable lesson in 2008. That year, US information technology (IT) giant Microsoft launched a mechanism to blacken the screens of computers using counterfeit Windows. It's right to attack piracy, but the incident also exposed China's online vulnerability to high-tech intrusion from overseas.

The incident also showed that American IT giants were not only controlling the operation systems in China, but also had a grip on chips, routers, servers, control systems and databases. The situation left China no option but to strengthen its safeguard mechanism, and boost its research in and control of critical technologies.

The other basic fact that baseless accusations ignore is that, like in other fields, China is a responsible country in cyberspace as well.

China has the highest number of netizens in the world. It provides all kinds of Internet services, including cloud computing, Wireless Application Protocol and Internet of things. As a beneficiary of telecommunication development, China launches systematic crackdowns on hacking and other network crimes to maintain order in the virtual world, which directly influences its economic development and security.

Since the 1990s, China has issued more than 30 laws and regulations on information security. It has amended the Criminal Law several times in regard to new online crimes. In August last year, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate issued a new judicial interpretation of hacker attacks and distribution of malicious programs on the Internet, extending imprisonment and/or penalty to production, sale and distribution of hacking tools, and stealing of information online.

In a case in which hackers had been hired to enter the computer systems of the Shanghai and Guangdong maritime bureaus in a bid to embezzle 2.38 million yuan ($377,468), the hackers were sentenced five years and their "employers" to 16 years in prison according to the new interpretation.

China has established judicial coordination mechanisms with more than 30 countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, and plays a proactive part in regional cooperation to strengthen network security.

In fact, compared with traditional security issues, countries have a greater chance of trusting each other on cyberspace issues, because they are transnational in nature and cannot be handled by any one country. The Internet connects the entire world, so a loophole, no matter where it occurs, can destroy the openness and security of global networking. Treating each other as cyber enemies will only increase distrust among countries to the advantage of hackers.

Therefore, the only way to deal with online security threats is to strengthen cooperation and mutual trust. But even the great efforts made by the international community to issue common regulations for cyberspace have yielded only a few fruits.

It's good to see China and the US holding more dialogues on the issue. But regretfully, the US still uses every opportunity to portray China as an "online threat". American politicians have repeatedly stressed that countries cannot strengthen their control over cyberspace for security reasons. The American politicians actually want to end the online security cooperation with China, putting ideology before the national interests of both countries.

No country will tolerate online threat and hacker activities. So to deal with hackers and online threats, countries need to use reason, and reason says that all countries have to cooperate to make the Internet safer.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of Information and Social Development Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.