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Symantec labels China censor-busting software as Trojan

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Symantec has labelled a program that enables Chinese surfers to view blocked websites as a Trojan Horse. Upshot? Users of Norton Anti-Virus cannot access Freegate, a popular program which circumvents government blocks, the FT reports.

Freegate has 200,000 users, Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), its developer, estimates. It lets users view sites banned by the Chinese government by taking advantage of a range of proxy servers assigned to changeable internet addresses. But a recent update to Symantec's AV definition files means the latest version of Freegate is treated as malware and removed from systems protected by Norton. Short of disabling Norton AV, users would have little say in this.

A Symantec staffer in China told the FT that Norton Anti-Virus identified Freegate as a Trojan horse, but declined to provide a rationale for such a definition. The absence of an explanation from Symantec raises concerns. We hope that the mislabelling of Freegate is a simple mistake, soon rectified, rather than yet another example of an IT firm helping Beijing implement restrictions.

History provides as least one example of the AV industry extending favours to China that it would normally withhold. AV firms normally keep virus samples under lock and key. But suppliers agreed to hand over virus samples to the Chinese government a few years ago as a condition of trading in the country. These samples could be easily found on the net but the incident illustrates a precedent of China being treated as a special exception. ®

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