We all love our electronic techie toys, be they, phones, PCs, labour saving gadgets, TVs and so on. Especially now that these sorts of commodities are so cheap. Remember in ’67 a 22” colour TV was a similar price to that of the Ford Anglia van that delivered it to your door. As a kid, I had a transistor radio which was stamped “Empire made” Made in Hong Kong. Nowadays, a very significant percentage of our electronic consumables are made in China. Mass production and very low labour costs combined with high work ethics have driven this on.
All good, but there is a big worry. We have become very beholden to the Chinese manufacturers. I say we, but I mean the Western World I guess. Let’s have a look at one of the biggest global manufactures of communications equipment, Huawei. You may have seen the name on your budget Smart Phone, clone of an iPhone for example. I am not picking on this organisation, just an example. Huawei started life as a reverse engineering company. It took existing Western products, pulled them to bits from physical and software aspects, with a view to reproducing similar and cheaper clones. Now the company is one of the biggest telecoms and IT companies on Gods’ planet. They make, routers, fiber transmission systems for the telecoms networks, you name it. In the early 2000s, there was a directive that BT (British Telecom) should convert all the old analogue-digital Time Division multiplex voice networks to the latest I.P. (internet protocol) systems, in readiness for the data explosion. In order for this to be achieved, millions of pounds had to be invested in new gear. After much debate, the best value for money came from Huawei, sending its’ competitors such as Marconi to the wall.
Is it a wise thing to entrust your entire communications backbone, with all it’s implications such as national security etc. to one company? No was the blunt answer. An organisation was set up to closely monitor and report back to the government on foreign made data equipment. A highly secure establishment was set up known as the “Banbury Cell”, real name Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC). Yep, heavily funded by Huawei. Top ‘Bletchley Park’ type IT geeks and scientists pull apart hardware and software coding that makes up all the ‘comms equipment and reports on, and remedies any vulnerabilities. This to placate UK stakeholders and politicians. It seems a bit silly to me that the manufacturer was allowed to monitor itself to a large degree. In fact things have changed in that GCHQ and the older, now combined into GCHQ, the CESG (Communications Electronic Security Group) have taken a significant control over the Cell. Vetting of staff and procedures are monitored closely. Why is all this such a worry you ask? Well, consider a time of crisis, not even a pending war, some sort of financial crash or global situation. If an interested party had the ability to monitor a Nation’s data and voice traffic and manipulate it at will, by secretly listening and filtering off the key good bits, to whatever advantage, that could be very attractive. With the lion’s share of our communications in the hands of a potential enemy, the results would be catastrophic. In fact in 2011 a “backdoor” opening was found in a piece of Huawei equipment. This would have allowed those technically minded, to access the inner working of a router and sniff around any data being carried. An engineer had left some access port used for remote programming, accidently open. My point exactly. Bet engineer is now planting rice in a paddy field. Strangely shortly after, Huawei invested 650 million quid into their UK operation. This was exactly the same sum that Cameron pumped into the Cyber Security establishments. Call me a cynical old git, but was there a link?
See, there is a club called the 5 Eyes. This is made up of experts from Australia, US, UK, Canada, New Zealand. They pool all their security and technical resources, share it and watch out for each other’s back over a beer and a BBQ. I like the Aussies. They looked at buying kit from Huawei and said “Fxxk that cobber”. They were too worried about exposing themselves. So to speak.
Of course, it is not just Chinese made equipment. Similar systems are made in Israel, UK and US. all of which would come under the same scrutiny in my books. Be warned, if you Google any of the above, watch out for a black van with a spinning roof rack parked outside your house.
Seth, your local spook, Zeta Services.