Linux as Trojan Horse? Forced Adoption of Red Flag Linux

Dec 09, 2008

Good news is that China is increasingly shying away from Microsoft and adopting Linux in its Internet cafés. However, can we trust the Red Flag Linux they're using?

The Associated Press wrote in a recent article that owners of Internet cafés in the southern Chinese city of Nanchang are required by authorities to switch to Red Flag Linux, even if they were using valid copies of Windows.

The measure taken by the Chinese government can't be good p.r. for Linux. First of all, Red Flag is selling its product to the cafés at a steep price. Secondly, it begs the question whether this deal is merely a scheme to fill Red Flag's coffers or the Chinese authorities built a surveillance back door into the product.

The third possibility is that the Chinese government, by putting increased financial pressure on the Internet cafés, is encouraging them to make their shops more airtight. Because blogging and Internet activism is a heinous crime by Chinese government standards, promoting a homegrown product would disrupt any regime-critical communication.

As to the possible surveillance question, café owners could answer it by applying the proper software. Meanwhile, Beijing-based Red Flag claims through its spokesman Fan Hongguan that its product is best suited for the high traffic in the cafés and because of its effectiveness against viruses.

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  • Other Linux Flavors

    What's to stop them from downloading and using another FOSS Linux instead of RedFlag? Why couldn't they just download a .iso of Ubuntu and go? Is the Chineese government preventing this?
  • Funny!

    It's so funny that western people always think the events happen in China in a ungrounded way.

    The fact is that Chinese government ask all the owner of internet cafe to replace their pirate OS for their SERVERS. If they has been using genuine OS they do not need to buy new OS. The document that the Nanchang government sent to the bosses of internet cafes said they can buy MS Server or Red Flag Linux, rather than only Red Flag. The bosses have right to choose.

    Maybe others will ask why the bosses could not choose other linux distributions. The answer is: they can, as long as they can run the administration software for internet cafe on the other linux distributions. Most internet cafes in Nanchang city installed the same administration softare on pirate Windows server. Red Flag helped the vendor of this administration software to port it to Red Flag Server Linux and had done a lot of work to ensure that it run on Red Flag Linux without any difficulties. The vendor did not test their software on other linux distro and it is obvious that they also have not oblication to do that since this work needs additional cost. (It's common that ISVs will certify their softwares on limited OS) However, most bosses of internet cafes do not know that the admin softare can run on other OS besides Windows. So the government document gived them a guide so that they could have more choices. It is a good news for Linux.

    Some people said that the customers could not play games after the internet cafes install Red Flag Linux. You can find that is not true because Red Flag Linux all installed only on administration servers rather than PC clients.

    You also can find that the imagination of "government back door" is totally ungrounded.

  • backdoors

    I don't think it would have a big PR effect if there is a back door, China spying on its people is old news weather they use windows or Linux. (Think Microsoft would say no if the alternative is getting kicked out the country? They can't afford to loose that many people to alternative OSs)
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