The NSA Leaks: the Chinese University of Hong Kong

Alleged interference in Pi Chiu Building Operations
(Martin Oei for Apple Daily)

Despite hiding in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden is still on the offensive, exposing more secrets to the South China Morning Post. Among these revelations is a claim that the National Security Agency has been infiltrating computer systems at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Although CUHK is an academic institution, some of its facilities have high strategic importance. The majority of Hong Kong’s internal Internet traffic passes through the Hong Kong Internet Exchange (HKIX), which is partially hosted in CUHK’s Pi Chiu building. In the event of a cyberwar, anyone who could disable CUHK’s data center in this building would paralyze all of Hong Kong’s Internet traffic. Due to the HKIX’s strategic importance, it is unsurprising that the NSA would want to infiltrate it. Also, some HKIX members, such as Taiwan’s Academia Sinica or Chinese academic networks, may be using HKIX to transmit sensitive data, again making the HKIX a key battleground in the current cyberwar. Due to Snowden’s ability to single out CUHK as a hacking target, it is likely that he has frequency engaged in hacking activities against the institution himself.

Furthermore, CUHK has some so-called “academic facilities” which, while civilian in name, may actually be conducting military research for the PLA. CUHK’s Henry Fok Ying Tung Remote Sensing Science Building, as well as its associated Satellite Remote Sensing Ground Receiving Station, is an example of such a suspicious facility. While the facility’s webpage claims that its purpose is to receive signals from the European Space Agency’s satellites for research purposes only, Hong Kong has seen an enormous influx of graduate students from China in recent years, and they could very well be using the ESA’s signals for less noble purposes.

Thus while Hong Kong’s taxpayers do not fund the PLA directly, they may be funding the PLA indirectly via the University Grants. This abuse by the PLA of our tertiary institutions for military research may lead to Western countries imposing controls on Hong Kong’s technology exports, causing our city to suffer. Furthermore, the targeting of CUHK by the NSA suggests that they are well aware of China’s activities in Hong Kong.

China has also recently launched many military-civilian dual use satellites, paving the way for its deployment of its new aircraft carrier. The United States would surely want to know how China plans to use remote sensing satellites to track aircraft carriers at sea, making CUHK a target for US intelligence. [Note: the PLA’s interception of satellite communications is likely for China’s new program to track and potentially destroy enemy aircraft carriers and other military targets.  The author”s mention of China’s own aircraft carrier is confusing here.]

This much is for certain: Snowden’s revelations are beneficial to Hong Kong, not just for reminding the citizens of Hong Kong that they may be under surveillance from Big Brother, but that Beijing may be diverting tertiary education funds for military purposes, which our taxpayers must not tolerate.

For an example of how HKIX is central to Hong Kong’s internet traffic, here is a map of Hong Kong’s ISPs.  All blue and green ISPs have a direct connection to HKIX (not shown).

cyberMap12-06

Meanwhile, Facebook has revealed that it has processed 9,000 to 10,000 government requests for data in the second half of 2012 involving 18,000 to 19,000 accounts (no information on whether Hong Kongers were involved), whereas Microsoft revealed it has received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests regarding 31,000 to 32,000 accounts. Also, the NSA is currently building a gigantic data center near Salt Lake City in Utah which will be capable of storing information on the order of zettabytes, or 10^21 bytes. That’s 1 billion terabytes (the size of an average hard drive as of 2013). The facility is likely for storing the massive amounts of data the NSA collects via PRISM and other programs, including one that splices tapping points into undersea optical cables.

new prism slide

(Source: The Guardian)

Finally, a commentary on the US perspective:

(Before) Snowden reveals that the our government is spying on American citizens!  What a hero for defending our rights!  (view the Verizon court order)

(After) Snowden reveals that our government is spying on China!  What a traitor for leaking state secrets!

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One thought on “The NSA Leaks: the Chinese University of Hong Kong

  1. […] of the host species’ offspring.  This is called brood parasitism.)  Also, in another earlier post, I quoted an Apple Daily editorial commenting on the use of Hong Kong’s universities for PLA […]

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