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Cybersecurity Researcher Discovers Unsecured Database with Millions of Chinese Social Media Chat Logs

Victor Gevers says it is his mission to “report vulnerable systems.”

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Image by iFeng Games (games.ifeng.com)

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Victor Gevers, a Dutch researcher at the cyber-security NGO GDI Foundation, has discovered that a Chinese database containing 364 million records including personal identity data, images, and chat conversations of PRC citizens, was left open for anyone to see who searched for its IP address.

Some of the information records allegedly come from apps developed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, including WeChat (Weixin), WeChat Wallet and QQ, but also from Alibaba’s Wangwang Message (阿里旺旺), which is the main chat program used on China’s most popular e-commerce site Taobao.

Gevers tweeted about his findings earlier this week (@0xDUDE). Journalist Yuan Yang reported about the issue in the Financial Times on March 4, writing that a large number of the records had the names and addresses of Chinese internet cafes on them.

Chinese internet cafes are legally required to install monitoring software on their computers (Wǎngbā guǎnlǐ ruǎnjiàn 网吧管理软件 “Internet cafe management software”). Well-known examples of this software are PubWin, Sicent (万象), Zuolun (左轮), or Fangzhu (方竹).

Gevers extensively tweeted about the open database over the past few days. On March 2nd, Gevers wrote on Twitter:

So this social media surveillance program is retrieving (private) messages per province from 6 social platforms and extracts names, ID numbers, ID photos, GPS locations, network information, and all the conversations and file transfers get imported into a large online database.”

On Tuesday, March 5th, Gevers also spoke to the Dutch ‘Foreign Desk’ (Bureau Buitenland) Radio 1 program, saying:

We assume that these messenger services are being screened by Chinese authorities, and of which [the information] is collected in one place. What we saw is that the profiles connected to GPS locations, device use, which wifi networks were used, Chinese ID numbers, ID photos – basically the full profile relating to the conversations. And then these conversations were sent out to various provinces across seventeen servers.”

On Twitter, he further stated:

Around 364 million online profiles and their chats & file transfers get processed daily. Then these accounts get linked to a real ID/person. The data is then distributed over police stations per city/province to separate operators databases with the same surveillance network name.”

On March 4th, Gevers also wrote that “[Chinese internet] is a space filled with open databases,” later tweeting that the same holds true for other countries, including the US.

News of the online leak was also picked up by various Chinese media outlets, including tech news site Driver China (驱动中国). Chinese news sites Sina, Sohu, Phoenix News, Techcrunch.cn, IThome.com, and Q Daily also reported about the issue, but these news articles were all pulled offline at time of writing, coming up with a ‘404’ error message.

One Chinese blog reporting on the issue did not only highlight that the database discovered by Gevers was accessible for people who knew of its IP address, but, noteworthy enough, also reported that it was available for viewing “free of cost.”

The issue was discussed on Weibo, where hashtags such as “360 million records leaked” (#中国3.6亿份聊天记录被泄露#) popped up with hundreds of views, but comments were soon taken offline.

As the annual Two Sessions (两会), China’s most important political event of the year, are currently taking place, Chinese social media is seeing increased censorship and control.

One of the comments that did get through on Weibo noted that as long as news reports were being ‘harmonized,’ it would be difficult for people to tell if this is “fake news” or not.

The fact that Chinese authorities screen digital data is no secret. In 2016, China’s Ministry of Public Security announced that messages posted on social media platforms such as Weibo, Baidu Tieba, or WeChat, could be identified as legal evidence and that China’s public security organs have the right to access electronic information and collect user data.

As a hacker and researcher, Gevers says his mission is to “report vulnerable systems” and sometimes “share what we learn.”

By now, the internet service provider behind the server has been warned about the open database, and within two hours after receiving the warning, the database was no longer accessible.

But how is such a leak possible in the first place? According to Gevers, the answer is quite straightforward: “The problem here is a knowledge gap. And that [knowledge] problem is not just an issue in China, it’s a worldwide problem (…) among people who build these kinds of systems,” he said on Dutch Radio 1.

Gevers’ research also made headlines in February of this year, when the Dutch hacker revealed that millions of personal record information data stored by the Chinese AI-based security software company Sensenets were openly accessible.

For more about the Sensenets leak, check here. To follow Victor Gevers on Twitter see twitter.com/0xDUDE.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Joey

    March 5, 2019 at 10:45 pm

    Lovely, Dutch researcher working to improve the security of China’s surveillance systems. Too young, too simple, sometimes naive…

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China Digital

The Disappearing Emoji on Weibo in Light of June 4

No candle or cake emoji on Weibo on June 4th.

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This week marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests which started in April 1989 and ended with the violent crackdown on June 4th of that year.

It is the time of the year that censorship on Chinese social media intensifies, which is noticeable in various ways.

One noteworthy change is the disappearance of various Weibo emoji. Already in 2012, China Digital Times reported that the Sina Weibo platform quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4. A year later, Shanghaiist also reported that the candle emoji had once again been removed, making the disappearing emoji a questionable annual Weibo tradition.

On Twitter, BBC reporter Kerry Allen (@kerrya11en) posted earlier that usually at this of year, it is not just the candle that disappears from Weibo’s list of emoji, but also the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

A screenshot taken by What’s on Weibo on June 1st of this year showed that all emoji were still available.

But on June 3rd, three emoji had disappeared from the list, including the falling leaf (风吹叶落), candle (蜡烛), and cake (生日蛋糕).

Screenshot June 1 2021 (left) versus June 3 2021 (right).

The disappearance of the emoji means that Weibo posts that were previously made by official media using these emoji also no longer contain them – instead, only the emoji description shows up.

To circumvent censorship, social media users in China often use emoji, creative language, or images to get their message across. To keep discussions on the violent events of June 4 contained, online censors also crack down on sensitive words, numbers, photographs, and symbols.

At this time, the term ‘Tiananmen’ has not been banned on Weibo, but the only posts using the term are official ones about another anniversary, namely that of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China will mark its 100th anniversary in July.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

Chinese E-Readers: The Best E-book Devices in China

Overview of the top 10 e-readers in China in 2021.

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From Onyx to Xiaomi, these are the top selling e-readers in China right now.

Ereaders have become booming business over recent years. Some people prefer an e-reader because it is easier on their eyes than reading from phone screens, others want a distraction-free digital reading style, and some just like the idea of carrying their own mini-library with them with a battery that lasts much longer than those of tablets or smartphones.

While Amazon’s Kindle is the biggest brand name in the American and European e-book reader market, the Chinese e-reader market also has several domestic brands topping the popularity lists.

Here is an overview of the top 10 brands currently dominating the lists in China. This list is based on the rankings of Zol.com, one of China’s leading IT information and business portals.

The devices mentioned in this list are all devices with E Ink (“electronic ink”) display technology, which gives them that low-power paper-like display. Devices using E Ink technology are usually in grayscale, but color e-paper technologies are now also available.

 

1. ONYX BOOX (CHINESE BRAND)

BOOX, also known as Onyx Boox (文石BOOX), currently is China’s top e-book reader brand, produced by Onyx International Inc., which mostly produces E Ink (ePaper) devices. Onyx Boox was founded in 2008 by a team from IBM, Google, and Microsoft. It is headquartered in Guangzhou.

What sets Onyx apart from many other e-book reader brands is that they offer devices from 7.8 to 13.3 inches that can also function as digital note-taking tablets, equipped with a pen that allows users to pen down their notes as they would in any paper notebook.

The latest Onyx devices such as the Max Lumi (13.3 inch), Onyx Boox Note Air (10.3 inch), the Note 3 (10.3 inch), and the Nova 3 and Nova 3 Color (7.8 inch) all have a wide variety of functions. Besides the common e-reading functions and digital note-taking possibilities, these devices run Android, handle many different file formats, and allow an install of Google Play, Kindle, OneDrive, and more, which really make them “like a tablet unlike any tablet” (which just happens to be their slogan).

Currently, the Boox Nova 3 is the brand’s most popular model in China. Priced at ¥2480 ($377), it is also among the pricier models in the markets due to its multifunctionality. It has 32GB of storage, E Ink Carta Plus (the latest generation of screens made by “electronic paper” technology) and also has a screen front light system, allowing users to keep on reading in the dark.

At ¥2780 ($423), the Onyx Boox Note S, which features a 9.7-inch screen, is also rising in popularity. Then there is also the Nova 3 Color 7.8-inch color E Ink tablet with a new Kaleido (Kaleido Plus) screen.

The Onyx is also sold outside of China, check it out here on Amazon.

 

2. AMAZON

The American Amazon brand is also popular in China when it comes to its e-reader devices. While compiling this list, the Onyx and Amazon brands actually competed over the number one spot, so there is not much difference there in terms of ranking.

Along with the entry-level Kindle Migu X, the 4th generation (2018) Kindle Paperwhite (6 inches, 1448x1072px) is among the most popular e-reader models in China, priced at ¥998 ($152). Like the Onyx Nova 3, it is also available with 32GB storage, but keep in mind that the screen is smaller.

The Kindle e-book devices are much more affordable than the Onyx ones, and their functionality is more straightforward as an e-book reader. They are known for their great battery life, and since the first Kindle was introduced in 2007 it has become the world’s most famous dedicated e-reader. Kindles are designed to interface seamlessly with Amazon’s online store, which makes them perfect for Amazon fans and less appealing for those who have no desire to use the Amazon ecosystem.

The Paperwhite model has an extra advantage to it, as it allows to keep on reading while taking a bath or sitting by the pool since it is water-resistant. The Paperwhite is currently the no.2 best-sold e-book reader on Chinese major shopping platform JD. It is sold through Amazon here.

 

3. iFLYTEK (科大讯飞) (CHINESE BRAND)

iFlytek is a partially state-owned Chinese AI firm established in 1999 that also produces e-book readers. The company made headlines in 2019-2020 when it was blacklisted in the US for allegedly using its technology for surveillance and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Its iFlytek Smart Office X2 (科大讯飞智能办公本X2) is the e-book reader that is currently in the top 5 list of most popular ink screen devices in China (it even scores no 1 on e-commerce platform JD.com at the time of writing), and it is also among the most expensive (¥4999/$762). The X2 is a 10.3-inch E Ink device.

Similar to the Onyx Boox devices, it is much more than an e-reader alone; it is also a note-taking device (comes with the Wacom stylus) and incorporates fingerprint authentication, Wifi/4G, (offline) voice recognition, and transcription functions; it probably is the smartest e-reader around.

The iFlytek also has a whopping 64GB storage, which can be expanded to 128GB. GizTechReview did a review of the Smart Office X2 here.

 

4. IREADER / ZHANGYUE (掌阅) (CHINESE BRAND)

Ebook reader Zhangyue (掌阅) made headlines in late 2020 when it was announced that Tiktok owner Bytedance would invest $170 million in the company.

Zhangyue, founded in 2008 in Beijing, is not just a producer of e-readers, it is also the online literature publisher behind the iReader platform (掌阅书城). Its most popular ebook reader in China at this time is the 6-inch Zhangyue iReader Light (掌阅iReader Light青春版), which is priced at ¥638 ($97) and comes with 8GB storage.

A much pricier model is the Smart X (¥3499/$539), which has 32GB storage and a 10.3 inch 1872×1404 resolution screen, making it just as big as the Onyx Boox Note Air and the iFlytek Smart Office X2. The iReader Smart X also comes with a Wacom pen for note-taking. There’s a review of this device on Gearbest.

The iReader Smart 2 is popular on shopping site JD.com, priced at ¥2299 ($353). It came out in 2020, and also is a note-taking device with 32GB storage and a 10.3 inch screen. The difference with the Smart X device mainly lies in its screen quality.

 

5. XIAOMI (CHINESE BRAND)

Beijing-brand Xiaomi is mostly known for being one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, but the tech company does so much more, from watches to earphones, TVs, scooters, and e-readers.

Priced at ¥599 ($92), the Xiaomi MiReader (小米多看电纸书), released in November 2019, is among the more popular e-reader devices in China at the moment. Mainly marketed for the Chinese market, it is Xiaomi’s first ebook reader which comes with a 6-inch e-Ink screen and 16GB storage. With its 1024×768 pixels at 212 PPI screen, it might not be as crisp and fast as other devices in this list, but its price is also much lower. This review at Goodereader was not positive at all, calling it “super slow and plodding.”

The MiReader also has a Pro device (小米多看电纸书Pro) available in China, which is ¥1299 ($200) and comes with a 7.8-inch 300 PPI screen and 32GB storage. The Xiaomi e-readers allow access to the WeChat Library, which is a great advantage for Chinese consumers (Kindle doesn’t allow access to the WeChat Library).

 

6. HANVON (汉王) (CHINESE BRAND)

Established in 1998, Hanwang is a pioneering company in character recognition technology and intelligent interactive products.

Although Hanvon is in the top 10 of China’s hottest e-book device brands, its Hanvon Gold House 3 model (汉王黄金屋3), priced at ¥799 ($123), is not nearly as popular as other devices in this list. The Hanvon Gold House comes with a 6-inch 1024×758 resolution screen and 4GB in storage. The device is marketed as being simple, stylish, and ergonomic.

 

7. TENCENT (CHINESE BRAND)

Chinese tech giant Tencent is mostly known for its social media and gaming products, but it also produces e-book devices.

The Tencent Pocket Reader (腾讯口袋阅) is small and lightweight with its 5.2 inches 1280×720 eInk screen, it comes with 8GB storage and is priced at ¥889 ($136). The device is centered around the Tencent ecosystem and provides access to the Tencent Library and bookstore.

Its small size makes this device different from other e-readers. It is the size of a smartphone, which is great if you really want an e-reader in your pocket, but less ideal if you are looking for a more comfortable reading experience. The Pocket Reader supports a 4G mobile card and can also make calls and do text messaging.

 

8. BOYUE (博阅) (CHINESE BRAND)

Boyue is a digital reading technology company founded in 2009. Throughout the years the company has released different e-book devices as well as digital note-taking devices.

The Boyue T80 model and its Likebook Mars are its best-sold devices in China. The Boyue T80 is priced at ¥1199 ($184) and has 8GB of storage, features an 8-inches 1024×768 screen, and supports SD.

The Likebook Mars is ¥1380 ($212) and comes with 16GB of storage, a 7.8 inch 1872×1404 screen, and it also has SD card support, which allows you to extend the storage capacity to 128GB.

 

9. OBOOK (国文) (CHINESE BRAND)

Guowen or OBOOK is an e-reader company established in 2010 as what was meant to be the Chinese answer to Kindle.

Its Dangdang E-reader 8 (当当阅读器8) is currently rising in popularity. It features a 6-inch 300 PPI resolution screen and 16GB of storage and is priced at ¥918 ($141).

 

10. SONY

Sony is perhaps not a name you’d expect in this list, since Sony seems to have exited the e-reader business some time ago.

There are only a few e-book devices by Sony that are still popular in China right now, and one of them is the 10.3-inch 1404×1872 screen Sony DPT-CP1 model that is priced at ¥4888 ($750). For this price, you get a lightweight, thin device that also serves as a digital note-taking tablet that syncs with PC or Mac.

The DPT-RP1/WC model is even pricier at ¥5299 ($815), for which you get a 13.3 inch 1650×2200 screen, which is comparable to the Onyx Boox Max Lumi.

 

By Manya Koetse

This is not a sponsored post. This article could contain links to online shops, which might allow us to earn a very small affiliate commission at zero extra cost to you – it helps us in maintaining this site. Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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