China Hosts Infosecurity Show as Xiaomi Gets Another Drilling

China has trumpeted an internet security summit in Beijing this week just as one of its flagship companies, smartphone wunderkind, Xiaomi, came under investigation by the Taiwanese authorities.

State-run media has been awash in the Middle Kingdom with news of an international cyber security summit – one which Beijing is hoping will galvanize its narrative that it is a victim, not a perpetrator, of online crime, and ready to help the international community.

There is little, if any, substance in the few news reports of the China Internet Security Conference, so it’s either too top secret to report on or actually has little of any value to relay. However, one report claimed that first Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and virus writer Fred Cohen attended.

One piece of news conspicuous by its absence inside the Great Firewall is the investigation of smartphone player Xiaomi.

Often referred to as the “Apple” of China, this former start-up has rocketed to super-stardom in the People’s Republic over the past few years thanks to its slick, low-priced handsets and idiosyncratic social media marketing techniques.

In news that rocked the smartphone world, analyst house Canalys claimed in August that the firm leap-frogged Samsung to become China’s number one smartphone brand by shipments, pushing it into the top five globally.

The latest investigation, by Taiwanese regulators, appears to effectively be a geopolitical move as concerns raised therein have largely been dealt with.

In August the firm issued an over-the-air update in order to address privacy concerns that devices were sending back too many handset details back to servers in Beijing.

“As we believe it is our top priority to protect user data and privacy, we have decided to make MIUI Cloud Messaging an opt-in service and no longer automatically activate users. We have scheduled an OTA system update for today (Aug 10th) to implement this change,” said international VP Hugo Barra at the time.

“After the upgrade, new users or users who factory reset their devices can enable the service by visiting ‘Settings > Mi Cloud > Cloud Messaging’ from their home screen or ‘Settings > Cloud Messaging’ inside the Messaging app — these are also the places where users can turn off Cloud Messaging.”

Charlie Smith, co-founder of anti-censorship organizations, argued that the net result of China hosting a cyber security meeting would be that “the public will be left with an immense feeling of insecurity.”

“China cannot take the right measures to protect against online threats because in most cases they are the threat,” he told Infosecurity by email.

“Any increase in security measures will run counter-intuitive to what the Chinese authorities really want: the ability to snoop on all communications; the ability to geo-localise those who ‘endanger national security’; the total cleansing of the domestic internet of ‘sensitive’ content; and blocking access to global content that ‘harms’ national interests.”

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