Two days ago, I blogged on the recent revelation that U.S. intelligence agencies have been intercepting American-made routers and servers and inserting backdoors so that they can penetrate networks in markets in which the gear is deployed (link to my May 13 post).
Since then, the story has continued, including with ars technica running photos yesterday of busy beaver agents “upgrading" Cisco routers at a “secret location” (link). No shit.
In the post I made a couple of days ago, borrowing from Glenn Greenwald’s Monday unveiling of the NSA’s export interception hijinks (link), I tied the new revelation to the politico-protectionist market access barriers that my employer Huawei Technologies has experienced in the U.S.
Following, is my nutshell synopsis of what’s been going on and why the U.S. Government has been blockading Huawei at home, and attempting to blackball the company abroad (Australia, South Korea, etc.):
Over the last few years, Huawei has grown to become either the leading or number two telecommunications infrastructure provider globally, with Huawei routers and servers and other gear becoming commonplace across the planet.
This turn of events has made the NSA’s eavesdropping practices ever-so-slightly more challenging. It is far easier to re-route U.S. exports through “secret locations” for beacon-implants than to similarly compromise Huawei gear shipping from elsewhere to elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the NSA has attempted to maintain its overwhelming surveillance footprint through its Shotgiant program which, among other things, stole Huawei proprietary product info with the intent to compromise Huawei gear where deployed (link to my March 25 post on the topic), but it would seem this is a far less efficient model than surreptitious interception and “upgrade” of outbound U.S. exports.
What do to, what to do?
Impede Huawei’s global business. Stymie and attempt to roll back Huawei’s worldwide share so that the NSA's eavesdropping activities could be most easily and broadly managed.
Demonize the company, starting with the U.S. market blockade, then extending to arm-twisting in foreign markets. The blockade was key. If Huawei had been allowed an even marginally-significant footprint in the U.S., it would have both furthered the company’s global success and market share, and undermined U.S. Government smear and blackball campaigns in other markets.
I’m not sure this policy is working.
The U.S. strong-arm tactics had some success in Australia, in terms of Huawei not being considered for the government-sponsored national broadband network (NBN) project, but they haven't prevented Huawei from successfully serving Australian commercial network operators. And, more recent U.S. Government attempts to undermine competition and choice in South Korea seem to have fallen flat altogether.
Worse yet, this week’s revelations from Greenwald may well have yet further adverse impact on the overseas prospects for networking gear from U.S. suppliers, yet further hampering the NSA’s ability to conduct surveillance (not to mention wreaking some potentially not-insignificant commercial havoc for the victimized companies).
Look, I’m not saying that the U.S. government should not be engaged in espionage and intelligence-gathering that is critical to maintaining our national security (although I would observe that the domestic overreach that the Snowden Revelations have detailed over the last 11 months is truly reprehensible).
But the policy and practices have failed, both in terms of the exposure of the NSA’s compromise of U.S. Internet and telecommunications service providers and, as recently learned, ICT gear-makers as well, but also in terms of demonizing a world-respected ICT leader like Huawei (and in so doing also depriving American service providers and consumers of innovative and competitive broadband equipment alternatives).
It’s time for a reset. Across the board.
While we’ve not likely heard the last from Snowden, et al, the crisis of confidence in the ICT industry is reaching a fever pitch. At stake is a global and interdependent economy that increasingly relies on digital and virtual tools and processes.
It’s time for industry and governments to come together to restore confidence in network and data integrity and security – in the Internet itself – and to do so in a rational, pragmatic, and non-political fashion. See any number of my posts over the last year for thoughts on how this might happen.