Internet snooping by the NSA might still keep on shocking the world, it does not stop the US from raising security concerns when other countries – like China – plan to do the same. Defense analyst Wendell Minnick looked at a new paper commissioned by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) for Defense News.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is working to leverage cloud computing skills that help the military’s “informatization” efforts, including connecting and integrating the military’s many systems into a single information technology framework. China’s civilian foreign intelligence collection organization, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), oversees projects aimed at bringing foreign cloud computing investment to China.
One area of concern, cited in the report, is the Microsoft and 21Vianet cloud computing partnership, which could provide a way for US companies to access China’s cloud computing network. China’s 21Vianet is a data center services provider, which is incorporated in the Caymen Islands to avoid telecommunications ownership restrictions. Microsoft has agreed to provide 21Vianet with Office 365, Software as a Service, and Windows Azure. Microsoft’s current plan is to allow Chinese cloud computing centers operated by 21Vianet to be fully integrated into Microsoft’s global cloud computer network, which includes Europe and North America.
The report said this was “alarming” and “even small-scale requests for sensitive information may cause security concerns.” The report reminds the reader that in the past Microsoft had provided the Chinese government with the “full source code for Microsoft Windows and other core products, which may have enabled the PLA and Chinese intelligence services to more effectively penetrate and exploit foreign systems and infrastructure.” This danger would be further raised by Windows Azure’s global data centers. “If Microsoft’s Chinese and non-Chinese cloud data centers are interconnected in the manner currently planned, there is a risk that any legal demands the Chinese government makes of 21Vianet to access and monitor its data-center operations may in turn allow the Chinese government to access foreign data centers outside China through Microsoft’s Windows Azure network.”
Even more disturbing is the direct involvement of the Chinese intelligence services in government-led cloud computing development. For example, although the Chongqing Special Cloud Computing Zone project was being overseen by the municipal government, the approval process for setting it up has gone through the MSS. A letter sent by the MSS to Chongqing officials stated that the MSS was working to “actively support and coordinate with” the municipal government on an ongoing basis. The MSS would provide “leading guidance and corresponding requirements.”
Should Facebook, Twitter and Google+ worry now Tencent, Baidu, Sina, Alibaba and Xiaomi have plans to expand globally, asked the China Weekly Hangout on September 5. Not yet, said investor William Yung, media-expert Paul Fox and Tech-in-Asia editor Steven Millward. Well, maybe Whatsapp should. Moderation by Fons Tuinstra of the China Speakers Bureau.