Hikvision's Government Owner Website Blocked To WorldBy Charles Rollet, Published on Jul 11, 2019
Hikvision's PRC government owner, CETHIK, has had its website blocked outside of China, hiding a major information source proving Hikvision's government ownership and control.
In this post, we examine the news, possible reasons why this has been done, and how this fits into the broader trend of the Chinese government blocking/deleting sensitive websites to outsiders:
- What Happened
- CETHIK Background
- CETC Websites Also Down
- Broader Trend
- No CETHIK Response
UPDATE 1: CETHIK website has been unblocked hours after our report was released after nearly a month of being blocked to the world.
UPDATE 2: CETHIK website is now blocked again a day later.
UPDATE 3 August 2019: CETHIK website is now unblocked, 2 months after we first reported. No explanation was provided why it was unblocked.
On June 18, IPVM noticed that CETHIK's website was inaccessible. When accessing cethik.com, a Chinese language notice pops up stating that "your visit may be dangerous to the site" (we have Google translated our screenshot):
The Chinese notice goes on to say:
[This is] because many websites are currently subject to many security threats, including scanning SQL injection, XSS, Webshell and other exploits exploiting various vulnerabilities, various malicious scans, CC attacks, and large DDos malicious traffic attacks. In order to protect normal website access and protect the normal business of the website, the cloud defense intercepts suspected sensitive operations.
CETHIK Website Works in China
Thanks to a VPN, we soon confirmed that the website remains available without issue in China. Greatfire.org, a website that runs a tool that tests whether China has blocked a URL, confirms that the website has not been blocked in China:
Recall that the PRC blocked IPVM domestically last year, and blocks thousands of other websites, including the BBC, WSJ, Wikipedia, etc. whose reporting or information the Party views as threatening its power. However, this is the exact reverse: CETHIK is not blocked in China but is inaccessible overseas.
CETHIK is a fully-state owned entity that is Hikvision's controlling shareholder, with about 40% ownership of the company; it has no other activities or purpose. (See Hikvision Chinese Government Owner CETHIK):
Hikvision routinely downplays its Chinese government ties, for example recently telling Bloomberg that "the company is independent in business, management, assets, organization, and finance from its controlling shareholders".
However, CETHIK's website was living proof of the exact contrary. Hikvision's chairman Chen Zongnian is also the Communist Party Secretary of CETHIK. CETHIK's "leader's speech" page shows a picture and letter from Zognian:
CETHIK regularly published articles showing Hikvision's chairman effusively praising the Communist Party, which were the basis of several IPVM articles:
- Hikvision Chairman Affirms China Communist Party Leadership, Celebrates Marx's Birthday
- Hikvision Chairman Praises United Front
(The banner reads "second congress of the CETHIK Party Committee")
CETHIK held many meetings openly praising the Communist Party, which we covered:
- Hikvision Government Parent Holds Communist Party Congress
- Hikvision Parent Conducts Communist Party Training, Urges Strengthened Party Leadership
- IPVM did not write a separate article about this, but on July 1 CETHIK celebrated the 98th anniversary of the founding of the China Communist Party.
(The top reads "2018 CETHIK Party Training Course")
CETC Websites Also Down
CETC's website also served as the basis for the IPVM article Hikvision CEO Admits Hikvision China State-Owned Company, in which CETC published an English-language account of Hikvision CEO Hu Yangzhong referring to Hikvision as "state-owned" during a visit by PRC president Xi Jinping.
The timing comes not long after the US government was widely reported to be considering sanctions on Hikvision. Last year, the US government placed sanctions on 27 CETC entities unrelated to Hikvision (see US Government Puts Export Control On Hikvision's Chinese Government Parent.)
Shutting down the CETHIK and CETC websites to the outside makes it much harder to access information about the entities. Doing so now requires buying a VPN and VPNing into China, a cumbersome process, especially in the USA where few people are even familiar with VPNs due to its open internet; ironically VPNs are most commonly used by Chinese to access the many popular websites banned there.
Fits Into Broader Trend
The Chinese government is well-aware that much critical reporting about its activities relies on its own websites. This is particularly true in the case of Xinjiang, the region host to a massive human rights crisis, where government announcements published online are routinely deleted after they're picked up by Western observers. For example The German academic Adrian Zenz, a widely-cited expert who has produced numerous critical reports on Xinjiang, has noted this:
This is not a unique occurrence; for example, very few of the bids posted on Chinese contracting websites that Zenz used to document the construction of Xinjiang's 're-education camps' remain live.
The same is true for many of the government and bidding websites IPVM used to document Hikvision and Dahua winning over $1 billion in Xinjiang surveillance contracts. For example, this Xinjiang government announcement stating that Hikvision won a contract for a surveillance contract in the region's Pishan County is no longer viewable online; naturally, we saved a hard copy (here is a Google translated screenshot:)
IPVM contacted CETHIK and CETC about this, but neither responded. Hikvision declined to comment.
Without an explanation from CETC or CETHIK, it is impossible to know why this was done. But the effect is clear. Hiding CETHIK and CETC from the outside world makes knowing about the true nature of these entities, and by extent Hikvision, a lot harder.