Companies asked by Washington to use online services to spy on customers
Foreign technology services providers such as Google and Apple can become cybersecurity threats to Chinese users, security analysts said, one week after China announced that it will put in place a security review on imported technology equipment.
Other major tech companies, such as Yahoo, Cisco, Microsoft and Facebook, were required by the US National Security Agency to transfer their users' information, according to Wan Tao, founder of Intelligence Defense Friends Laboratory, an independent institution focusing on cybersecurity in China.
Wan said that online services have become a major way for the US to steal information globally.
Ning Jiajun, a senior researcher at the Advisory Committee for State Informatization, said, "Previously, the US asked companies to install wiretapping software on their technological products, but if users found and shut down related functions, its 'plan' would fail," he said.
For instance, information on a Chinese organization can be stolen when it places an order on an international shopping website, he said.
With technologies such as cloud computing and big data getting popular, information can be collected and analyzed immediately, which means the damage can be much greater and more difficult to prevent, analysts said.
"It can be said that those who master online services can get more information in cyberspace," said Du Yuejin, director at the National Engineering Laboratory for Cyber Security Emergency Response Technology.
Last month, China's Internet Media Research Center issued a report saying the NSA makes use of large technology companies for its wiretapping plans, including Prism, which was unmasked by former NSA intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, asking them to collect information on their users and urging them to hand in the data regularly.
The NSA grabbed users' information and stored most of it for analysis by invading database and communication networks of Yahoo and Google, while it has also controlled applications on smartphones with Britain, said the report released at the end of May.
"The US, in fact, could get these users' information or conduct the wiretapping by attacking the network instead of 'cooperating' with the enterprises, but it might take more time and money," said Wan.
The actions of the NSA have put huge pressure on US technology companies, as customers from Paris to Sao Paulo and from Beijing to Berlin worry about their privacy being invaded.
US President Barack Obama held two discussions with CEOs of major US technology companies in the past six months about the NSA snooping, which led to a "reform" of the NSA to focus on protecting US citizens' privacy, but with little improvement on foreign organizations and citizens.
In May, John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, wrote a letter to Obama urging Washington to stop using the company for surveillance of its customers, according to an Al Jazeera report.