To Prevent Cyber Hacks Should the U.S. adopt a “No Made-in-China” Policy for Chinese Made Telecom Equipment

Earlier this year, Information Age reported that Cambridge University researchers discovered that a microprocessor used by the U.S. military (made in China) contains secret remote access capability (a “backdoor”) which means that it can be reprogrammed or shutdown without the user’s knowledge.  “The discovery of a backdoor in a military grade chip raises some serious questions about hardware assurance in the semiconductor industry,” writes Cambridge University researcher, Sergei Skorobogatov.” It also raises some questions about the integrity of manufacturers making claims about security of their products without independent testing.”

Telecom companies such as Huawei have had disputes with Cisco, Nortel, and others. Huawei has also been under investigation by the House Intelligence Committee for ties to the Chinese military and by the FBI for allegedly reselling U.S. technology equipment to Iran despite the current embargoes. The U.S. government and defense officials have also expressed a number of concerns over the years about Chinese telecom companies close ties to the Chinese government and military. To be fair to the Chinese, the issue of Chinese military backdoors in U.S. telecom equipment has definitely been hyped and politicized, particularly in the middle of an election year. Some might even argue that the United States is only trying to help U.S. firms such as Cisco, a bitter rival of Huawei.

Regardless, there is a growing concern in the U.S. and other countries that telecom gear could be hacked. One fear is that backdoors may be placed in communications software/equipment that could be used to spy on U.S. communications.  Another is that potential adversaries will have the ability to turn off or disable equipment using remote access codes and finally, there is the fear that information might be altered or there could be a loss of integrity.

While Chinese telecom companies such as Huawei and ZTE have repeatedly denied these claims, it has not been enough to satisfy everyone. As an example, earlier this year, the Australian government prevented Huawei from bidding on construction of its nationwide high-speed Internet network. Long term, more openness from Chinese companies, greater public oversight of its practices, and offering third party review of their code is the only way I seen these questions being resolved.

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