I downloaded an anti-virus program for my computer today. Exciting, I know. What I love most about using a Mac is that I never have to worry about getting a virus (or so the apt marketers at Apple and their cult followers have led me to believe). But today, I noticed a lag in typing to keyboard-response speed as I was entering various searches into Google, of which, I’ll admit, only half had to do with my research. This new development gave me an uneasy feeling that something wasn’t quite right down in the complicated depths of my laptop’s motherboard, so I did what any long-time PC user would have done: installed some anti-virus software, ran a scan, and breathed a sigh of relief after I was presented with the “no threats found” result.
But how many times had I gotten that same comforting message on my old PC, only to have everything crash on me a few seconds/minutes/hours/days later? Pictures, music, videos, school papers, random documents all lost; just the panic-tainted memories of that ‘blue screen of death’ make me feel short of breath! (Or maybe it’s Kunming’s high altitude.)
There’s a new Vanity Fair article that describes, at length, my very situation: China, computer hackers, viruses, and loss of sensitive information. Actually, it’s not really related to my situation at all, but it touches on some of my general concerns about being in China, using China-controlled internet, and often downloading TV shows (which is not illegal here), while also enjoying the freedom on a purchased VPN (which is greatly frowned upon, I’m sure). I don’t typically pay any attention to Vanity Fair magazine, but this month’s issue hasn’t disappointed yet, what with all the Jennifer Lopez relationship developments and now this article.
So what did the cover-featured article, not very cleverly entitled “Enter the Cyber-dragon,” say?
- Unidentified people from China have been hacking into the computer systems of major corporations and government organizations around the world, with particular focus on the US, since 2005.
- These attacks are serious.
- Most US companies never publicly acknowledge(d) being victims of cyber attacks: “for fear of panicking shareholders and exposing themselves to lawsuits—or for fear of offending the Chinese and jeopardizing their share of that country’s exploding markets.”
- It took the eventual whistle-blowing of Google to bring national attention to the issue in 2010, though: “many experts were puzzled by the way that Google announced the attacks, emphasizing Aurora’s secondary goal (reconnaissance of “human-rights activists” in China) rather than its primary one (stealing Google’s virtual DNA).” [obviously trying to get the less computer-savvy media and publics’ attention…]
- It’s unclear if most of these cyber attacks from China are government-sponsored or coming from Chinese companies trying to get an edge on their biggest competition, but the Chinese government adamantly denies any involvement. Ever. [yeah, like some civilian would just want to hack into countries’ old Olympic committee files a year before the Beijing Olympics]
- The skill level and ‘exfiltration’ involved in these cyber attacks is really impressive. [maybe we should all switch to Linux-based systems?]
- Laws governing this ‘cyber-espionage’ are still unclear, US corporations assume the US government is protecting them, and the various problems are compounded by the fact that most companies are still too embarrassed to publicly admit their computer systems and confidential information have been compromised.
At the end of it all, it seems like the purpose of all this hacking is to get information that will help China be more competitive internationally, particularly with the US and US companies. We’re not going to be nuked and no one is trying to shoot down Air Force One. One only has to note the plethora of fakes and blatant disregard for intellectual property rights to know what China is focused on: advancement and making money by profiting off the work of well-established, successful foreign brands/concepts/systems.
All things “Western” are wildly popular in China, sometimes to a sickening degree (why are all the popular models white when China is obviously very Asian? Why does everyone wear shirts with non-sensical English on them? There’s no need to foster a Bluest Eye–like complex). Even Kunming, a second-tier city that wakes up around 9am and shuts down by 10pm, has fake Apple stores, fake Nike stores, and rip-off Ikeas. Until recently, everyone thought the Apple and Nike stores were real and paid retail prices for their products. It’s not only the US that’s getting ripped off anymore, and one is stepping into dangerous territory angering the Chinese upper class.
Many people in the US are afraid of China eventually “taking over the world.”
I’m not too sure why that’s so terrifying, but maybe that’s because I don’t understand economics as well as I should. Yes, if China overtook the US, there would be a noticeable relationship change between our two countries (which is already happening) and its government is paranoid and whiny, but its citizens would inevitably be more exposed to the dangerous influences of the Western world and China has too many serious problems it needs to address for it to be considered a stable and truly developed nation.
Overall, as a country where cheating, corruption, and copycats are rampant and acceptable, how can China remain at the top if it gets there? Some Chinese “scholars” known for plagiarizing are already being closed out of international academic conferences. [Of course, that’s not to say that true creativity and intelligence can’t be found in China. As one of the opening lines in The Social Network asks: “Did you know that there are more people with genius IQ’s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?”] But no one respects or wants to have a close relationship with the chronically dishonest classmate, even if (s)he did manage to become valedictorian.
So back to my computer problem. It’s certainly possible that I’ve downloaded some virus that’s stealing all my pictures, music, and out-dated resume files in search of a competitive edge or my credit card numbers. But since I’ve gotten the “all clear” from the 2009 version of iAntiVirus, I’ll just assume that the problem is is that I’ve become such an incredibly fast typer that new technology can’t keep up with me. That, or my computer was overheating.