Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 19:48 GMT


Routing round Chinese Walls

China is building the Great Wall of cyberspace

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

"The Net interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it" - John Gilmore, Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Beijing trial of businessman Lin Hai, accused of distributing 30,000 e-mail addresses to a pro-democracy journal, emphasises China's position at the epicentre of a conflict over the free flow of information on the Internet.

A totalitarian state trying to impose order and control on the anarchic Net always promised to be a battle royal, and it is being waged on several fronts:

  • Websites: China channels Internet access for its one million users, who have to register with the police, through government-controlled servers in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. This means it can block access to sites it considers subversive.

    But last weekend hackers breached the servers' firewalls, a form of Internet security, according to a Wired News report. They instructed the software to ignore the list of banned addresses, which the hackers said included ones at the BBC, ABC, MSNBC and Wired.

  • E-mail: The authorities may deter dissidents from using e-mail to further their cause by finding Lin Hai guilty and imposing a stiff sentence. But in practice, e-mail can be anonymous, encrypted and hard to intercept. The hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow is developing an e-mail plug-in which will allow Chinese users to receive e-mails of banned Web pages.

  • Newsgroups:China has blocked access to newsgroups. Users could get round this with an international call to an Internet Service Provider outside China.

  • Official sites:The Chinese government is exploiting the Internet as a propaganda tool. In October, it launched a site defending its human rights record. But it was instantly hacked and replaced with a page denouncing it as propaganda and providing a link to Amnesty International.

Political hacking appears to be the most potent threat to the authorities' attempts to censor the Internet. Many official government sites are using outdated and insecure software and workstations, giving hackers ample opportunity to make their point on sites to which every Internet user in China would have access.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Sci/Tech Contents

Relevant Stories

04 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
Dissent on the Internet

04 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
China's cyber trial closes

24 Oct 98 | Monitoring
Cyberwarfare breaks out on internet

28 Sep 98 | Sci/Tech
Malaysians take to Web with Anwar protest

19 Aug 98 | Sci/Tech
Chinese protesters attack Indonesia through Net

Internet Links

China Internet Technical Forum

Official human rights site

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer