China is flinging another attack at Microsoft. After banning the use of Windows 8 on all government computers, the People's Republic of China is now implicating that Microsoft is working with the U.S. government in spying on China.
In its widely watched noontime news program, state-owned television network China Central Television (CCT) aired a segment featuring people it identified as experts who said Microsoft can use its latest operating system to gather information, such as phone numbers and financial details, about Chinese users and create a profile of Chinese society using the collected data.
The Wall Street Journal translated a transcript of the segment, which brought to light Microsoft's alleged role in helping the National Security Agency obtain encrypted files and data from computers running on Windows 8. The CCT segment also questioned the purpose of the Patriot Act, which orders companies to hand over customer information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation should the government require it.
"It's very easy for providers of operating systems to obtain various types of sensitive user information," the Journal reports one of the CCT experts said. "They can find out your identity, your account information, your contact list, your mobile phone number. Will all that data together, using big data analysis, a party can understand the conditions and activities of our national economy and society."
"In reality, this is how the monitoring takes place. It's easily done. This is by no means a theoretical analysis. This is the way it is," the expert added.
The CCT broadcast also mentioned that other countries such as Russia and Germany are already turning to the use of operating systems developed locally. China already had its own platform for use in government computers, Red Flag Linux, which was in part funded by the country's ministry of information. Red Flag Linux was mandated to become the replacement for Windows 2000 on all state-owned systems, after tensions between Microsoft and the Chinese government over piracy and pricing rose to new heights in 2012, with Microsoft alleging that four state-owned corporations in China were using pirated versions of Windows server client software and Office. The Chinese-made OS, however, never gained traction.
Microsoft, which is already seeing that China is a tough market to crack, says foreign governments have the option to evaluate Windows 8's source code before deploying the platform on any government computer.
"Our Government Security Program allows governments to review our source code to confirm there are no back doors," says Microsoft spokesperson Kathy Roeder.
The Chinese ban on Windows 8 covers only state-owned computers and not those owned by individuals and private entities. Despite the government's stance against Microsoft, Windows XP, which has stopped receiving support from Microsoft and is seen as less secure than newer platforms, enjoys a 70% market share in China.
In a separate report by pro-government China Daily, the paper cites cybersecurity analyst and founder of Intelligence Defense Friends Laboratory Wan Tao, who said that U.S. companies such as Facebook, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft have handed customer information over to the NSA.
"Previously, the U.S. asked companies to install wiretapping software on their technological products, but if users found and shut down related functions, its 'plan' would fail," China Daily also quotes Ning Jiajun, a senior researcher at the Advisory Committee for State Information.