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Computer lab’s Chinese-made parts raise spy concerns
Question of the Day
A 2009 white paper prepared for the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said China’s military has “begun employing this capability to mount a large-scale computer-network exploitation effort for intelligence-gathering purposes against the U.S. and many countries around the world.”
The five lawmakers, in their letter, raised concerns that Huawei is seeking to place its gear inside sensitive installations by partnering with U.S. vendors. In the case of the University of Tennessee National Center for Computational Engineering, a company called MPAK Technologies won the bid. That company specializes in data-storage architecture, and it has sensitive contracts with the FBI and other U.S. government agencies.
In an interview, MPAK founder and CEO Michael Kornblum said his storage architecture was not at risk of being compromised by an intelligence service. Data for the system would be encrypted, and the storage system will not be connected to the Internet. He also said the Huawei hardware was not installed on the disc drives, where the data would be stored.
“If you were to do the kinds of activities the senators are talking about, you would put that technology in the disk drives because the data lives on the disk drives,” Mr. Kornblum said. “Huawei does not manufacture the disk drives.”
Jeffrey Carr, the CEO and founder of Taia Global, a cybersecurity firm said, however, that encryption is not enough.
“There are so many alternative ways of compromising a network. It can be done through a thumb drive, a printer server,” he said. “It could be done through a vendor that seeks to install or to service the equipment, it could be done through an insider, an alternative communication channel like Bluetooth or another peer-to-peer network. It could done through an internal email.”
Mr. Carr, who first wrote about the lab’s contract on his blog last month, said: “If you are targeting an advanced facility, the bad guy will figure out the layout of the network.”
Another concern expressed by the lawmakers is that Huawei has been subsidized by the Chinese government, giving it an unfair advantage over U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems.
In the letter, the U.S. lawmakers stated that Chinese policy gives Huawei the ability to offer much lower prices than their competitors.
Mr. Kornblum said his company’s bid to build the storage system for the supercomputer was “significantly cheaper.”
“It’s no mystery that Huawei is trying to get into the U.S. market,” he said. “They have done some things to enter the U.S. market that were less publicized. But they are going to get into the market, and they are going to eat Cisco’s lunch. Huawei’s technology is superior.”
Mr. Plummer added: “We are doing business no differently than anyone else does business. We have customers, and we have partners, and we have suppliers, and that is how business is done.”
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