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How China can spy on your electronics — even in the U.S.

The risk of bringing your phone to China
The risk of bringing your phone to China 01:07

The U.S. government's top counterintelligence official has a stark warning for visitors to China: The Chinese government can spy on your smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Bill Evanina is director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, a division of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper spoke with him recently about Chinese spying.

Cooper asked Evanina: If he were a CEO, would he bring a cell phone to China?

"Absolutely not," Evanina said in the clip above. "I would not take any electronics to China that I owned that has my own personal data on it, my company's data."

Evanina said American companies who do business in China are particularly at risk.

"China knows your business deal offerings before you get there," he said.

Evanina explained that, while the U.S. has independent internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T, the internet in China is operated by the government. That means the Chinese government can access users' information as soon as they get online.

"You click on one hyperlink, maybe you click on a news feed that you see, [and] they have the ability to get into your hardware," Evanina said. "And they have access to your entire phone."

U.S. intelligence official: Be careful in Chinese-owned hotels 01:06

It's one thing for the Chinese government to spy on internet users while they're in China; it's another for the spying to happen on U.S. soil. But, Evanina warns, if you visit a hotel owned by a Chinese company, your data may be accessible.

"When you are in a hotel, the owner of that hotel owns all rights to the Wi-Fi in that lobby," he told Cooper in the embedded clip above.

If the Chinese government or intelligence service requests the information gleaned from that Wi-Fi, the hotel owner is then legally mandated to provide it. The information could include frequent flier miles, hotel membership numbers, and credit card information.  

Evanina said Beijing can spy on data collected from Chinese-owned Wi-Fi connections all over, from Boston to Berlin.

"It's anywhere in the globe."

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center provides guidance on how to mitigate these counterintelligence threats as part of their "Know the Risk, Raise Your Shield" campaign, available here.

To watch Anderson Cooper's report on a former CIA officer who was recruited to sell information to China, click here.

The videos above were originally published on December 23, 2018, and were edited by Will Croxton.

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