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Data security meets disco fever in Shanghai

Data security meets disco fever in Shanghai

Here's a travel advisory: The next time you find yourself in a foreign city at night with nothing to do, take my advice: rent a movie in your hotel room. Don't go to discos. And if you do go out, don't bring a smart phone with you.

A high-ranking UK official got Shanghai'd in Shanghai last January, possibly compromising the cyber security of the British government. Out partying at a disco in the Forbidden City, he went home with an attractive Chinese national. He woke up with a smile on his face, but the girl and his Blackberry were missing. (Hey, at least he still had his kidneys.)

According to the Times of London:

A senior official said yesterday that the incident had all the hallmarks of a suspected honeytrap by Chinese intelligence. ....Experts say that even if the aide's device did not contain anything top secret, it might enable a hostile intelligence service to hack into the Downing Street server, potentially gaining access to No 10's e-mail traffic and text messages.

Though many of the reader responses to this story are priceless, this one from "Graham" in South Africa stands out:

"I have to sympathise with this guy. Last Tuesday night I was picked up by a young lady and one thing led to another and the next morning I discovered she'd stolen 100 rand from my wallet. It happened again on Thursday night, then Saturday, and with any luck it will happen again tomorrow."

Downing Street claims it suffered "no compromise to security" in the incident. China hotly denies its spies are involved. Right. I believe them. But with the Beijing "high-tech" Olympics coming up in a few weeks, this hasn't made anyone feel safer about cyber security in China. Again, per the Times:

Joel Brenner, the US government's top counter-intelligence official, warned: "So many people are going to the Olympics and are going to get electronically undressed."

Which doesn't sound nearly as much fun as being physically undressed, though equally risky. The good news: This now gives Olympics tourists something to worry about besides the air quality in Beijing. Using a Blackberry in China can't be that much more dangerous than simply breathing.

David Gewirtz, author of Where Have All the Emails Gone?, notes that US government officials are not much better at protecting their Blackberries than their lascivious British counterparts. Karl Rove has allegedly lost several of the gadgets, no doubt containing his secret plans for world domination. Last April White House staffers left a half dozen of the smart phones outside a conference room in New Orleans, then claimed they were stolen by a member of the Mexican delegation. (No doubt dressed as Salma Hayek.)

Meanwhile, in a classic display of chutzpah, the US Department of Homeland Security has issued a private warning to government officials and private executives about "foreign governments" (aka the Chinese) stopping them at the border and copying information off their laptops and smart phones -- tactics the DHS feels perfectly happy to employ for US citizens returning to this country. The DHS also warns of foreign agents quietly slurping data off cell phones via compromised Bluetooth connections and installing eavesdropping devices [PDF] on Blackberries.

The DHS won't publicly acknowledge the threat for fearing of ticking off the Chinese, who might retaliate by ... copying information off our laptops and spying on our smart phones. Or maybe they'll just send hot Asian mommas to discos looking for lonely US diplomats.

To quote my favourite [fictional] British spy: "It's shagadelic, baby." Or better yet: "Oh behave."


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Tags Times of LondonBlackberryDepartment of Homeland SecurityBeijingdowning streetOlympicsDavid Gewirtzshanghai

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