Dutch advised to only take 'empty' phones, laptops to China: report

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is advising Dutch traveling to China to only take 'empty' phones and laptops, with no sensitive data, with them. Data on these devices may be 'drained' remotely. This warning now also applies to Russia, Iran, and possibly Turkey, insiders told the Volkskrant. 

Last week 165 Dutch companies and knowledge institutions that are accompanying Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a trade visit to China this week, received a letter from the Ministry with these instructions. "The Chinese government will want to know everything about you and your company or organization", the Ministry wrote. "You can therefore assume that all computers and telephones entering China will be continuously monitored to obtain this information." 

The Ministry gave 13 tips on how information can be protected. One of these is to take 'empty' devices along. "Only put information on your computer that you really need. Delete the rest." Laptops should be equipped with updated security software, preferably a start-up password and an account password, and an encrypted hard drive. The Dutch entrepreneurs are also strongly advised not to switch their Dutch phones on in China at all, instead buying a local phone with a prepaid SIM card. And they should not use USB sticks they receive as gifts. "These gadgets can be infected with spyware to keep an eye on your computer, steal information or passwords, and even take over the computer."

Officials going on the trade mission also received new phones from the government, with extra protection and unnecessary apps and documents deleted. "Really important documents are only printed", an official said to the newspaper. Anonymous officials told the newspaper that the current safety instructions are much more intense than previous ones. Officials who traveled to China or Russia three years ago did not receive a new government phone or such alarming warnings, they said. 

Government information service RVD would not comment to the Volkskrant about the specific safety instructions for officials going on the trade mission. "Different conditions apply to each trip", was all the RVD would say. 

These safety instructions will also apply after the trade mission to China, and also for several other countries, insiders told the newspaper.