China's national intranet: the way forward for cyber protection?
China is building a national intranet, designed to improve the country's cyber security. But is this the most effective means of strengthening security?
China has announced that it will be rolling out a national intranet, meaning that residents and workers in many locations will only be able to access online content by going through this portal.
Any content deemed inappropriate by the Chinese government will be inaccessible, with the overall aim being to tighten cyber security throughout the nation. Is this the future for cyber protection for organisations around the world? Or would it impose on people's freedoms, particularly in a workplace setting?
China's national intranet
The China Internet Corporation has entered into a deal with Bay Networks to build this landmark intranet, which will be accessible across 50 major cities in China, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Sun Microsystems will also be involved in the intranet construction project, with work set to begin in February.
People living and working in China will be able to access online content from all over the world, but only if the Chinese government has deemed it suitable, meaning a certain degree of censorship will be imposed.
Although the official line is that this is to strengthen computer security, it could also provide an opportunity for the government to closely monitor what people are searching for online. Again, this could lead to long-term security improvements, but it could also encroach on users' feelings of freedom.
Indeed, analysts are speculating that the restrictions will see the popularity of the China Wide Web decline, with people using alternative means to access the online content they wish to view.
Another possibility is that the Chinese government's efforts won't be successful, and content it would have wished to filter out will find its way through, meaning the intranet construction will have been something of a waste of time and resources.
Government web restrictions: Pros and cons
Some will think that the concept of only being able to access the internet via a specific portal sounds like a sensible approach to national security in the modern age, while others will be of the view that it imposes on their rights.
But perhaps it all depends on the type of content that an organisation is trying to stop people from accessing.
In China, for the moment, it is believed that officials will be attempting to block content from Western media sources. Some, such as News Corporation, have even tried to get around this by launching Chinese language versions of their sites in recent weeks.
However, in the UK, for example, it could perhaps be used in the future to prevent people from accessing extremist content or other forms of offensive online material - something the British government has been trying to step up its efforts to tackle in recent months.
While this may well be the future of cyber protection and computer security around the world, implementing an intranet on a smaller scale, such as for a business, is a much more achievable way to join the fight against cyber risks.
Imposing web restrictions in a business setting
In a business setting, a company could prevent its staff from looking up web content that could distract them while they're at work, alongside tightening its own cyber security. Stopping employees from accessing online content from external or risky sources would be a slightly less extreme way of imposing restrictions than the Chinese government's plans, albeit with the same underlying aim.
For businesses, it would be about getting the balance right. Restrictions for the sake of tighter security could be positive, but stopping workers from accessing some content could lead them to seek it in an unsecure way instead, or via their smartphones perhaps, detracting from their productivity.
Therefore, before launching into the construction of an intranet, it's important to work out the intentions behind it, the best way to roll it out to ensure staff know what is expected of them when using it, and how its own security can be maximised.