hackers reveal china’s forbidden words

Here’s why hackers are are an invaluable part of the internet. China Digital News has an amazing piece on what exactly you can’t say over the internet in China.

It is an open secret that all Chinese Internet hosting services, including wireless and instant messenger services, filter user communication through key word blocking mechanisms. But overly vague and broad Chinese internet laws and the internet police force never made the forbidden words explicit — Not until some Chinese hackers located a document within the installation package of QQ instant messaging software. The file contains over one thousand words, most of them in Chinese, which will be blocked by the service.

Owned by Tencent, QQ is China’s most popular Instant Messenger service. On a regular basis, tens of millions of users use their service. On one day, March 13 , there were more than six million users online using QQ at the same time. Because of its high traffic volume, it is technically much harder to build in the key word filtering mechanism on the server’s end. Instead, Tencent sneaked in a filtering program file in their installation package at the client end. When a client installs the QQ2003 software on their own computer desktop, a program file, called COMToolKit.dll, is automatically included. This file contains all the forbidden keywords, which will be automatically blocked when the client runs QQ. The full list is below.

Recently, some Chinese hackers located this file and released it on the Internet. The censored key words list is commonly used not just for QQ, but also for all websites, BBS and text messaging services. One Internet user did a rough breakdown of the list: About 15% of the words are sex related, the rest are all related to politics. About 20% of the words are Falungong related, including “师父” (master) and “弟子” (disciple); about 15% are names of current officials and their relatives; about 10% are words used in the liberal political discourse such as “democracy”, “freedom”, and “dictatorship”; and about 5% are related to certain nationalistic issues, such as “保钓” (defend Diaoyu Island),“中俄边界” (Sino-Russian Border) ,“卖国” (selling out the country) etc. About 15% of the forbidden words are related to anti-corruption, such as “走私”(smuggling, “公款”(public funds)etc. Other censored words include names of dissidents, writers, and intellectuals, and names of certain foreign publications.