Going on a business trip to China? Take your passport and visiting cards but not your laptop loaded with sensitive corporate information as the sophisticated Chinese electronic surveillance systems may access them in a giffy, experts say.
China's booming market beckons to American businesses as the Communist giant is the United States' second-largest trading partner. However, many are increasingly concerned about working in China amid electronic surveillance that is sophisticated and pervasive, the Washington Post reported.
China's brazen use of cyber-espionage stands out because the focus is often corporate, part of a broader government strategy to help develop the country's economy, the report quoted experts who advise American businesses and government agencies as saying.
"I've been told that if you use an iPhone or BlackBerry, everything on it - contacts, calendar, e-mails - can be downloaded in a second," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a former senior White House official for Asia who is at the Brookings Institution.
But Chinese officials say cyber-spying is a problem in much of the world. "It's advisable for all international travelers to take due precautions with their computers and cellphones," Chinese embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said.
"China is not less insecure than other countries," Wang said.
Travelers to China often tote disposable cell phones and loaner laptops stripped of sensitive data. Some US officials take no electronic gear. Other travelers hide files on thumb drives, which they carry at all times and use only on off-line computers, the report said.
"It's real easy for them [the Chinese] to read everything that goes in and out of the country because the government owns all the networks," said Jody Westby, chief executive of Global Cyber Risk, a consulting firm.
"The real problem here is economic espionage," she said.
Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Joel Brenner, then the US national counterintelligence executive, first issued government safety guidance to overseas travelers.
Though no country was named, "it was really directed at countries like China and Russia," Brenner said recently.
He based his 2008 warning on cases in which Chinese malware was remotely inserted into cellphones; the malware then infected computer servers in the US. He said the networks in every major hotel are monitored by security agencies.
"What's at stake is not only the security of your current communications, but the security of your secrets back home," said Brenner, who advises clients on data security at the law firm Cooley LLP. "That's the real danger."
Intrusions into computer networks also have been reported at the US State, Commerce and Defence departments; they allegedly originated in China, the report noted.