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Beijing to Troops: Wearables Represent a National Security Risk

The Chinese authorities have warned People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops that wearable technology represents a national security risk as it could be tracked and used to reveal military secrets.

The note came in a report from military mouthpiece the PLA Daily which urged all personnel to avoid any kind of device, from smart watches to fitness trackers and HUD glasses.

It claimed that the ability to record video and audio, take pictures and transmit details such as location, render wearables a major security risk.

The warning is a serious one as crimes deemed harmful to national security could lead to the death penalty in China.

The report used the cautionary tale of a soldier in Nanjing who is said to have received a smart watch from his girlfriend as a birthday present and then tried to take a photo of his fellow recruits with it.

Whether the tale is true or not it highlights the Chinese military’s growing concerns, especially over foreign-made IoT technology which could monitor and send to the cloud location, health and other data that could be tactically useful on the battlefield.

The PLA is said to run its own private intranet separate from the public internet to keep data security as tight as possible.

China has been cracking down of late on government use of foreign, especially US-built, technology – using the revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden of widespread US surveillance as its rationale.

This has even included instituting a public sector ban on popular hardware and software, such as Windows 8.

Scott Lester, senior researcher at Context Information Security, argued that the caution shown by the Chinese military is “understandable” given that many IoT vendors are developing and releasing products as quickly as possible.

“As we’ve shown in our work on IoT devices at Context, security is often something that is added on as an after-thought, or not even considered for early versions of a product,” he told Infosecurity.

“Most wearable technology broadcasts data constantly, and can contain information about the owner’s movements, pattern of life and health. Tracking these broadcasts, identifying individual devices and possibly extracting the data could yield a wealth of information about the owner.”

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