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Dial S for secret

(Source: Global Times)   2014-11-14

  Soldiers’ use of cell phones risks leaking sensitive information

  Among the thick clouds of billowing smoke and explosions in the sky, the red army evaded detection and conducted a rapid strike against the blue army, but just before the red army achieved victory, the office directing the exercise announced that the red army's headquarters had been destroyed.

  This occurred during a simulated combat drill conducted by the Chinese navy's East Sea Fleet. The sudden defeat came because a red army officer carried his cell phone into its headquarters, which allowed the blue army to locate their headquarters by tracking the location of the officer's cell phone, according to an account of the drill published by the PLA Daily.

  "You will be the enemy's hero if you bring a cell phone to a real battle," the PLA Daily quoted the exercise director as saying.

  Considering the ubiquity of cell phones and the risk of them leaking military secrets, China's military authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of cell phones by soldiers while on duty.

  Taking the risk"PLA Soldiers are forbidden from using cell phones during their two years of service in the army," Wu Jun (pseudonym), a training instructor at a Beijing-based army unit, told the Global Times. New recruits are ordered to either hand in their cell phones or mail them back home when they join the army, Wu added.

  According to a report by the Southern Weekly, Zhang Pusong, a training instructor at a Beijing army base, said a survey conducted on Internet use among new recruits showed that 98 percent of soldiers had access to the Internet before they joined the army and that 20 percent surfed the Internet for more than six hours a day. Eighty percent of new recruits asked their commanding officer to allow them to access social media and to play video games after completing their basic training.

  Wu and other instructors regularly inspect the belongings of soldiers and those who are found to be hiding phones are criticized and have their phones confiscated.

  But officers like Wu are allowed to own cell phones, and are only banned from taking phones into conference rooms and other sensitive areas.

  Controlling cell phone use is an important part of national information security, as today's advanced cell phones are essentially mobile computers which can easily be hacked into, said Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

  The risk of information being leaked from cell phones comes from both the phone's built in and extended functions. The built-in functions include the camera, the phone's GPS services and its ability to transfer information, as if the phone is hacked it could reveal the phone's location and all of the data stored on the phone can be transferred almost instantly, Li told the Global Times.

  And the extended functions, including the ability to install software on the phone, make information interception and theft easier, he said.

  A political commissar attached to an artillery unit in South China received a text message advertising a construction company's services the day after he discussed the military's plans to build new dormitories with other officers. Following an investigation, the technical team found that the cell phone of one of the officers had automatically downloaded software which monitors the phone's activities while he was recording the meeting, according to the Southern Weekly report.

  Such software is known as spyware and is advertised online as enabling one to access a cell phone's data.

  The PLA Daily also called on troops to be wary of free Wi-Fi services as people might intercept and tamper with the information on phones connected to unsecured Wi-Fi networks, in a report published in October.

  The number of Chinese soldiers who have leaked military secrets and were punished has not been made public yet, but the leaks caused by cell phones have become a global issue.

  The South Korean Ministry of National Defenseannounced that 3,116 soldiers were punished for leaking secrets by accessing the Internet and using their cell phones between 2004 and 2012, the Southern Weekly said.

  Strict regulations

  A series of strict regulations on the use of cell phones by military personnel were introduced in 2002. In Wu's army, new recruits undergo training on secrecy once a month, which includes how to safely use mobile phones, he said.

  Soldiers can only access the Internet at Internet cafes the army provides, according to Wu.

  The soldiers who are allowed to use mobile phones have to strictly follow a set of rules. These rules say that their cell phones should be domestically made, have secure communication programs installed and should be used for texting and calling only, Song Zhongping, a former lecturer on missile technology and now a military affairs commentator in Beijing, told the Global Times.

  Different military organizations have different regulations, based on the level of secrecy necessary, according to Song.

  A Ji'an-based army in Jiangxi Province has cooperated with local telecommunication operators to block all texts that contained sensitive words - including "bullet," "soldier" and "drill" - since October, according to China National Defense, a newspaper affiliated with the PLA Daily.

  "Cell phone use cannot be totally banned within the Chinese military, but restricting their use is essential to protecting national information security," Li said.

  Approved by President Xi Jinping, China's Central Military Commission issued a directive to improve the security of military information in October, the PLA Daily reported. The directive urged the PLA to establish a military information protection system and to launch a risk assessment system focused on informational security.

  In November, the country passed its first counter-espionage law. The law said that national security agencies are entitled to seize devices, funds, venues, supplies and any other property related to espionage activities. This stipulation was added after lawmakers suggested that electronic devices like smartphones could also be used in espionage, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

  According to the new counter-espionage law, anyone that deliberately or accidentally leaks national secrets can be detained for up to 15 days, and in severe cases, may even be charged with a criminal offense.

Editor:Zhang Tao
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