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Malware from The PRC

Some other interesting issues have arisen in my trip to and from the PRC, which raise a couple of questions.

First, when I was leaving China and going through immigration and security, I was stopped before the security portion and my laptop (in the case) was removed from my cart and moved through a separate scanner machine that seemed to be only for computers. Then I went on into security and the contents of my carry-on luggage (including the laptop again) scanned in the usual way (exception: they made me take all of my cameras and lenses out of my camera bag and put them in a separate tray).

But what was curious to me was the separate treatment of the computer prior to security. So my first question is: Does anybody know what that was all about? I’ve been to many countries (including other totalitarian ones) and nothing like that has ever happened to me.

Second, as I was sitting in the airport leaving Thailand for the PRC I got a message from a tech guru friend warning me to take special measures to protect my laptop. [http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/02/computer_securi_2.html] It was too late by then, so I had to just plunge forward (his solution was clever and simple – back up every thing from your laptop before you go into the PRC, then remove anything sensitive. When you leave the PRC wipe the hard drive clean (reformat it) and then restore your backed up pre-visit material).

But I couldn’t do that, so, second question, will my off-the-shelf Apple malware program (iAntiVirus) delete any malware that might have been added? If not, what are my other options to disinfect my MacBook Pro from possible malware? I don’t think I have anything sensitive or interesting to anyone in the PRC, but you never know.

by Neal Jackson at 2012-08-21 16:40:44 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I travel all over China taking both domestic and international flights and have never heard or have experienced anything like this before and I carry a lot of equipment also.If the government suspect that you have some potentially sensitive material that may compromise their interests I can assure you that they will not let you leave without seizing it first.I would need to know the facts before I could speculate on why this occurred ? Were you travelling on a journalist visa ? Did you cover a particularly sensitive subject while you were in the country ? If not then this was just a routine check and I doubt very much that they interfered with your PC or camera equipment.Such treatment would be very rare,even if you are a journalist.

by Phil Behan | 21 Aug 2012 22:08 (ed. Aug 21 2012) | Dublin, Ireland | | Report spam→
Phil, malware is a risk in the PRC, though you may not have encountered it yourself (or didn’t think you did). See http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/02/computer_securi_2.html and the comments with that. Some informed people I know say there is definitely widespread computer snooping in China.

I was traveling on a tourist visa, and had not photographed anything controversial (even by Chinese standards). We even got permission from a neighborhood association in one area where I was shooting, and in fact one of the policemen helped me hold some equipment during the shoot. So I don’t think I set off any alarms.

I just found the first laptop scan to be an especially odd event.

by Neal Jackson | 22 Aug 2012 01:08 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Have photographed and traveled extensively in PRC and never been seriously tossed. I bring 3 LaCie 500GB drives, and copy all my work to all three every night. 1 stays with me, 1 with a friend, one goes home with a different friend on a different flight. I also copy tiny jpgs to an IronKey encrypted drive as last resort. I travel tourist not journalist.

by John Rudoff | 22 Aug 2012 05:08 | Portland Oregon, United States | | Report spam→
Neil,the resources required to snoop every tourist or even journalist that passes through a point of exit in China with a laptop would be quite a phenomenal task even by Chinese standards.What would be the point ? What would they have to gain from it after you have essentially left the mainland ? Perhaps if you were a visiting government official or a noted Human Rights campaigner it could well be the case,but a tourist with a laptop ? You are of no interest to the government,police or any other agency. I’m not coming to the defence of the of the government here by any means, but I am merely pointing out that the levels of paranoia I hear about travelling in the PRC are ridiculous.I have experienced far worse in Tel Aviv where my laptop was seized and posted back to me weeks later.

by Phil Behan | 22 Aug 2012 06:08 (ed. Aug 22 2012) | Dublin, Ireland | | Report spam→
Yes, I know about the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories. I am pretty sure my wife’s iPhone was tapped during an extended hold by the customs and “security” people.

Phil, I agree with you that to snoop every tourist would be a Herculean task. But all I know is what I read. They apparently have an extensive intelligence operation that seeks that information from foreigners. The real question is on whom is the snooping done. Because of some prior dealing with the PRC government in previous employment, I may be in their database as an advocate for press access. I was not a very troublesome one, but you never know.

But my first question is why they would separately scan my computer before the actual security check began?

I’m not known as a paranoid, but I did find the scene curious.

by Neal Jackson | 22 Aug 2012 18:08 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→

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Participants

Neal Jackson, Neal Jackson
(Flaneur, Savant and Scapegrace)
Washington, Dc , United States ( IAD )
Phil Behan, Photographer Phil Behan
Photographer
(Photographer)
Urumqi , China
John  Rudoff, Still Photography John Rudoff
Still Photography
(Photographer)
Portland Oregon , United States


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