If there’s one thing we all want in life, it’s access to Wi-Fi wherever we go (right?). But public Wi-Fi, though convenient, has its risks, and internet users should remain vigilant when connected to a public network. So what’s the situation like in China in terms of public Wi-Fi? Is it safe to connect to the internet in China? Or should you steer clear from it altogether?
What’s the Internet Like in China?
It’s been known for some time now that China’s internet is not the same as that of many other countries around the world. Unfortunately, many popular websites and platforms have been banned in China, including Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, and YouTube. A lot of news websites have also been banned, including The New York Times, BBC, and HuffPost.
So, if censorship is a common theme in China, just how accessible is the internet to begin with?
Despite China’s online landscape being a little controversial, public Wi-Fi is commonplace in many restaurants, cafés, and hotels within the country. There are over 30,000 hotspots available to connect to in Hong Kong alone, so it’s likely that you won’t have too much of a hard time finding a public Wi-Fi network to join if you’re looking to access the internet in China.
However, the wide availability of public Wi-Fi in China is not a testament to the safety of these networks. Public Wi-Fi can be a risk in any country, with cybercriminals seeing them as perfect targets for data theft and hacks. But China’s public Wi-Fi networks seem to be a particular safety concern for internet users. So, why exactly is this the case?
Chinese Hackers and Surveillance: Public Wi-Fi Risks in China
At the moment, joining a public Wi-Fi network in China could certainly be considered a bad idea. This is because cybercrime through public Wi-Fi is incredibly common in China. As reported by Qihoo 360, China’s largest security software company, more than 80 percent of public Wi-Fi users in China can be very easily attacked, which is hugely concerning.
Countless victims have had their money stolen via public Wi-Fi attacks in China, with some losing tens of thousands of yuan in one go. On top of this, some Chinese provinces are now demanding that all businesses providing free Wi-Fi must use surveillance technology to monitor user activity. To do this, businesses have to use government-approved equipment.
The province of Hebei has already made this surveillance mandatory, and it seems that others have or will soon follow suit, given that this surveillance requirement is now part of a “nationwide initiative” that will surely affect millions of people around the nation.
What’s more, the use of a VPN to increase security when online in China is a point of contention. This is because a wide number of VPNs are illegal in China, and those that can be used must be pre-approved by the government. These pre-approved providers must grant the government backdoor access to their stored data, and this means that you could be closely monitored even while using a VPN.
Because of these significant threats, American athletes taking part in the Beijing Winter Olympics have been urged by the FBI to bring a burner phone to China for the duration of their stay. This suggestion has been made due to the fact that China is a “sophisticated, modern surveillance state that has facial recognition, video cameras everywhere, and web traffic is tightly monitored”.
Additionally, there is concern over hacktivists using the internet to draw attention to human rights issues within China, which may put the security or privacy of athletes at risk.
All of these factors have essentially made China’s internet a red flag to visitors, as there’s no knowing how your data or activity is being handled.
Public Wi-Fi in China: Widely Available, but Also Widely Monitored
Overall, the tight grip that China seems to have on its internet is certainly a concern for those wishing to go online while within the country. With surveillance becoming an increasing issue, the threat of hacktivism endangering users, and online security itself being very lackluster, it may be best to steer clear of public Wi-Fi networks in China in order to protect yourself and your data.
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