back to article China's censorship cyber-missiles shoot down pics flying through WhatsApp, chat apps

China has expanded its censorship tools to strip out images from chat messages in transit through its networks. The new powers were demonstrated on the country's most common messaging services – WeChat and Weibo – following the death of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo last week. The superpower's Great Firewall was also …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, China now has censoring capability that ALMOST matches that of Facefook?

  2. Alistair Mann

    Hash-matching, eh? I would expect unaligned IM clients to randomly start changing low order bits when forwarding images in the near future. Perhaps adding jpg artifacts, so we can judge how socially near we are to an event by the amount an image has been degraded.

    1. handleoclast
      Big Brother

      Re: image degradation

      Nice idea. Very nice. But...

      Degrade images to get past hash matching. Fairly obvious, but with an app that changes bits randomly each time the image is sent/forwarded, it would evade hash matching. Google, however, has fairly intelligent image classifying algorithms, and China has a large search engine company which could well be heavily influenced by the gov't (if not now then certainly if hash evasion becomes common) and which probably has its own image classifying stuff.

      As for the meta-staganographic idea of using image degradation to flag impending events, that would make the image very noisy and be fairly easily detectable. It would also mean that pictures of snowstorms, etc., would get blocked.

      A snowstorm canary would work, though. Send pretty pictures of snowstorms regularly, so that when degraded images are used to signal impending events blocking noisy images shows the canary has been killed.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Moxie Marlinspike, what a noob

    No surprise for WeChat and Weibo, as those are effectively state run, so they designed the protocol to scan and strip images.

    The news is that despite its advanced security features, the Signal protocol doesn't pad and obfuscate traffic allowing attachment stripping.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Moxie Marlinspike, what a noob

      "the Signal protocol doesn't pad and obfuscate traffic allowing attachment stripping."

      Sure we all want each text message to be a minimum of 2MB so we can hide images occasionally...

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Moxie Marlinspike, what a noob

        Yes. We just might. Randomly sized packets that keep getting sent at random intervals whether you're actually sending a message or not. Exactly for the reasons presented here. Communications that consist strictly of the required amount of data sent only at the user's request are revealing WAY too much and offer way to convenient of a chance to intervene to be called worthy of bothering with in the 21st century, regardless of how uncrackably they are encrypted.

  4. Sandtitz Silver badge

    Per article:

    "It is notable, however, that the Chinese government was only able to shoot down specific images on the chat apps based in China – strongly suggesting that the government has access to the company's backend systems."

    Well, duh. Was anyone really really thinking otherwise?

    ElReg should've mentioned that Winnie the Pooh is also banned.

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    cue an Australian politician

    Demanding the same power - if China can do it ....

  6. KenBW2

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear

    Be careful with that definition of "extremism"

  7. Nick Kew

    Can we have some of that?

    Rejecting mail (at MTA level) with images attached makes life that bit more bearable. Recommended.

    Cleaning junk from other communication channels is no bad thing either.

  8. John Savard Silver badge

    The simple solution is to ban all countries with human rights issues, political prisoners, political press censorship, and so on, from the Internet and from international trade. Cut them off from access to modern technology.

    1. Mephistro Silver badge

      "Cut them off from access to modern technology."

      A little bit late to do that, as China contains/controls a majority of the IT factories in the world.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Does that include countries with intrusive spying mechanisms like the 5-eyes countries? Or those using extraordinary rendition and offshore "no trial" prisons in Cuba?

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      If we follow your method, the Internet as we know it, will cease to exist since just about every (can't be sure of "all" but seems it should be "all") country will be banned.

  9. JaitcH

    This is the difference between the East and the West

    In the East they practically tell you it has happened; in the West they use more covert strategies.

    Almost same-same!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is the difference between the East and the West

      The passive-aggressive tactic of the 'shadowban'.

      I think Facebook and Twitter are especially fond of it.

  10. Alan Penzotti

    Countermeasure: ASCII art






  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oppressive regimes and their comical love-hate relationship with the Internet

    Love: online propaganda, pro-government shills (in China's case, the infamous 50 cent brigade)

    Hate: censorship of 'sensitive' topics and material online (in China's case, even censoring the skeletons found in World of Warcraft).

    It's not just unique to China though. Indonesia has banned Reddit and Vimeo. Singapore has banned a Christian website.

    That's why a reliable VPN is important.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A perfectly good way to combat fake news

    What's wrong with that? A lot of people would do it, if they could...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A perfectly good way to combat fake news

      I love it when sarcasm flies way over people's tiny heads and hands...

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    See, western governments ?

    Encryption protects. If encryption could be backdoored, nothing would change because totalitarian governments would just use the backdoor (to say nothing of hackers).

    Because WhatsApp uses proper encryption, China censors can only do wholesale blocking. They cannot go into the message content and pick and choose.

    Okay, you might say that the message is still blocked and that is true, but it is blocked based on meta criteria (size, are there attachments), not on content. That remains an important distinction because it still means that censors cannot actually blame any blocked message for being illegal since they don't know what's in it.

    Proper encryption protects the people. Do it right, because someone will anyway.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: See, western governments ?

      I think you've confused the what the Western (especially the anglophonic 5eyes) governments are with what they say they are.

      The way that things are moving, they are trying to become the totalitarian governments and have no interest in protecting the people.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The ability to discern and apply

    I'm sure our government will be happy to provide this copyright-free advice from the Chinese. Or is it what we sent THEM, back on that first train to Middle Kingdom, alongside Yorkshire pudding, etc.?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1984 ?

    So these are the people we allow to buy our and others assets, countries, companies and debt. If we support their state by letting them overrun democracy then guess who will be next.

    We get what we deserve.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: 1984 ?

      You seem to be inferring that there exist some other people in power somewhere who aren't trying to do the exact same things by whatever excuse they think will let them get away with it.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: 1984 ?

      Too late. At least as the US, try to find a pair of shoes not made in China... or steel (other than specific ones used in defense). Or clothing. The list goes on and on.... They own too much of the world economically and are definitely pushing their politics in the background.

  16. Mahhn

    No filtering needed if/when:

    Ban electronic communication/devices.

    Disappear everyone that types an un-approved word.

    Mandatory behavior drugs, a vaccine to prevent free thought.

    1. Marcus Fil

      Re: No filtering needed if/when:

      I think I worked there. I just can't quite seem to remember.

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